Mucoepidermoid carcinoma: Analysis of 76 cytologic cases and correlation with histologic grade

Cancer Cytopathol. 2022 Oct;130(10):783-799. doi: 10.1002/cncy.22600. Epub 2022 May 31.


Background: Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common salivary gland (SG) malignancy. In this study, the author undertook analysis of a large collection of MEC cytologic cases.

Materials and methods: Cytopathology files were searched for MEC cases with histopathologic confirmation. Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) smears used standard technique.

Results: Seventy-six cases (63 patients [M:F = 1:1; age range, 23-87 years; mean age, 58 years]) met inclusion criteria. Aspirates were primary (54 [71%]), metastatic (18 [24%]), and locally recurrent (4 [5%]). FNA sites included parotid gland (49 [64%]), regional lymph nodes (11 [14%]), submandibular gland (5 [7%]), inner canthus of eye (2 [3%]), and lung (2 [3%]); and single specimens from palate, jaw, shoulder, paranasal sinus, floor of mouth, ear canal, and effusion. Cytologic diagnoses included MEC (30 cases [39%]), suspicious for MEC (16 [21%]), non-MEC carcinoma (9 [12%]), suspicious for malignancy (SM) (2 [3%], malignant (M) (1 [1%]), SG and/or suspicious SG neoplasm (7 [8%]), atypical (3 [5%]), nonneoplastic (5 [6%]), nondiagnostic (2 [3%]), and benign SG neoplasm (1 [1%]). A total of 26% of low-grade (LG) cases were diagnosed as malignant in contrast to 87% malignant in high-grade (HG) cases. Cytomorphology depended on tumor grade. LG MEC contained intra- and/or extra-cellular mucin and more uniform cell and/or nuclear morphology, whereas cytologic atypia, anisonucleosis, and keratotic cells were more typical of HG tumors.

Conclusion: A malignant (M) or suspicious for malignancy (SM) cytologic interpretation was made in 76% of mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) cases. In contrast to high-grade MEC (97% identified as M/SM), only 59% of low-grade (LG) MEC cases were interpreted as such, illustrating the continued diagnostic challenge posed by LG MEC using fine-needle aspiration biopsy.

Keywords: Milan classification; cytopathology; fine needle; mucoepidermoid carcinoma; salivary gland neoplasm.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Mucoepidermoid* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucins
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Salivary Gland Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Submandibular Gland / pathology
  • Young Adult


  • Mucins