Mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the salivary glands revisited with special reference to histologic grading and CRTC1/3-MAML2 genotyping

Virchows Arch. 2021 Nov;479(5):975-985. doi: 10.1007/s00428-021-03146-x. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common carcinoma of the salivary glands. Here, we have used two large patient cohorts with MECs comprising 551 tumors to study clinical, histological, and molecular predictors of survival. One cohort (n = 167), with known CRCT1/3-MAML2 fusion status, was derived from the Hamburg Reference Centre (HRC; graded with the AFIP and Brandwein systems) and the other (n = 384) was derived from the population-based Cancer Registry of North Rhine-Westphalia (LKR-NRW; graded with the AFIP system). The reliability of both the AFIP and Brandwein grading systems was excellent (n = 155). The weighted kappa for inter-rater agreement was 0.81 (95% CI 0.65-0.97) and 0.83 (95% CI 0.71-0.96) for the AFIP and Brandwein systems, respectively. The 5-year relative survival was 79.7% (95% CI 73.2-86.2%). Although the Brandwein system resulted in a higher rate of G3-MECs, survival in G3-tumors (AFIP or Brandwein grading) was markedly worse than in G1/G2-tumors. Survival in > T2 tumors was markedly worse than in those with lower T-stage. Also, fusion-negative MECs had a worse 5-year progression-free survival. The frequency of fusion-positive MECs in the HRC cohort was 78.4%, of which the majority (86.7%) was G1/G2-tumors. In conclusion, the AFIP and Brandwein systems are useful in estimating prognosis and to guide therapy for G3-MECs. However, their significance regarding young age (≤ 30 years) and location-dependent heterogeneity of in particular G2-tumors is more questionable. We conclude that CRTC1/3-MAML2 testing is a useful adjunct to histologic scoring of MECs and for pinpointing tumors with poor prognosis with higher precision, thus avoiding overtreatment.

Keywords: CRTC1-MAML2; Gene fusion; Head and neck neoplasms; Mucoepidermoid carcinoma; Neoplasm grading; Observer variation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid / therapy
  • Female
  • Gene Fusion*
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Progression-Free Survival
  • Registries
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / mortality
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms / therapy
  • Time Factors
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CRTC1 protein, human
  • CRTC3 protein, human
  • MAML2 protein, human
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors