Cutaneous soft tissue tumors: diagnostically disorienting epithelioid tumors that are not epithelial, and other perplexing mesenchymal lesions

Mod Pathol. 2020 Jan;33(Suppl 1):66-82. doi: 10.1038/s41379-019-0387-5. Epub 2019 Nov 4.


Cutaneous soft tissue tumors with epithelioid features present a diagnostic challenge given that many entities in this category are rare, and they show morphologic overlap with significantly more common cutaneous epithelial and melanocytic neoplasms. The challenge is compounded by overlapping expression of epithelial or melanocytic markers in some of these entities. A broad spectrum of primary cutaneous epithelioid soft tissue tumors exists, including benign and malignant counterparts of tumors with various differentiation including melanocytic, peripheral nerve sheath, angiomatous, fibrohistiocytic, and myoid or myoepithelial, in addition to translocation-associated tumors lacking a derivative tissue type. Given this spectrum, an initial targeted immunohistochemical panel for epithelioid dermal and subcutaneous neoplasms is recommended, covering a broad spectrum of differentiation. In diagnostically challenging cases, select molecular studies can be employed to make critical distinctions between entities sharing morphologic and immunohistochemical properties. Due to sometimes marked differences in prognosis and treatment, knowledge and familiarity with epithelioid soft tissue tumors is key for any surgical pathologist who evaluates skin and subcutaneous biopsies and excision specimens. This concise review provides brief descriptions, key diagnostic features, and important modern ancillary studies for the diagnosis of non-epithelial, non-melanocytic cutaneous tumors that can exhibit a prominent degree of epithelioid morphology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epithelioid Cells / chemistry
  • Epithelioid Cells / pathology*
  • Histiocytoma, Malignant Fibrous / chemistry
  • Histiocytoma, Malignant Fibrous / classification
  • Histiocytoma, Malignant Fibrous / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Sheath Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Nerve Sheath Neoplasms / classification
  • Nerve Sheath Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Skin Neoplasms / classification
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / classification
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Biomarkers, Tumor