Salivary duct carcinoma: Updates in histology, cytology, molecular biology, and treatment

Cancer Cytopathol. 2020 Oct;128(10):693-703. doi: 10.1002/cncy.22288. Epub 2020 May 18.


Salivary duct carcinoma (SDC) is an aggressive subtype of primary salivary gland carcinoma, often with an advanced stage at presentation and high rates of metastasis and recurrence. It most commonly arises in the parotid gland of older men and microscopically resembles high-grade breast ductal carcinoma. While 50 years have lapsed since the first report of this entity, recent intensive studies have shed light on its biologic, genetic, and clinical characteristics. The diagnosis of SDC is aided by the immunohistochemical expression of androgen receptor (AR) coupled with its characteristic histomorphology. Fine-needle aspiration typically reveals cytologic features of high-grade carcinoma, and ancillary studies using cell block material can facilitate the specific diagnosis of SDC. In surgical specimens, certain histologic features are important prognostic factors, including nuclear pleomorphism, mitotic counts, vascular invasion, and the morphology at the invasion front. Several clinical studies have shown promising results using targeted therapy for AR and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), and the latest version of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines recommends the evaluation of AR and HER2 status before treatment. Recent molecular analyses have revealed multiple heterogeneous alterations in well-known oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, including TP53, HRAS, PIK3CA, PTEN, and BRAF. Clinical trials of drugs targeting these genes may broaden the treatment options for SDC in the near future.

Keywords: androgen receptor; fine-needle aspiration; human epidermal growth factor receptor 2; salivary duct carcinoma; salivary gland tumor; targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / therapy
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / genetics
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / therapy


  • Biomarkers, Tumor