Poorly differentiated colonic adenocarcinoma, medullary type: clinical, phenotypic, and molecular characteristics

Am J Pathol. 1997 May;150(5):1815-25.


Clinicopathological evidence has accumulated that colorectal adenocarcinoma with minimal or no glandular differentiation constitutes two entities with different prognosis. In a series of 20 predominantly nonglandular, poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas, histological features, DNA content, p53 protein expression, Ki-ras mutation, and microsatellite instability were analyzed and correlated to the biology of the tumors. In addition, the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) transcripts was tested by RNA in situ hybridization and EBV DNA was demonstrated by nested polymerase chain reaction. Histologically, 13 tumors showed small uniform cells and 7 tumors showed large pleomorphic cells. Tumors with uniform cells exhibited more commonly an expansive growth pattern (69.2% versus 0%; P < 0.025) and a dense peritumor lymphoid infiltrate (84.6% versus 14.3%; P < 0.01) resembling their gastric counterpart, solid or medullary carcinoma. These tumors showed less frequent lymph node as well as hematogeneous metastases than pleomorphic carcinomas. In addition, they were usually diploid (84.6% versus 28.6%; P < 0.05) and lacked stabilization of the p53 protein (0% versus 42.9%; P < 0.05). No significant difference between the medullary and the pleomorphic tumor type was found with respect to bcl2 expression and the occurrence of Ki-ras mutations at codon 12. In contrast, microsatellite instability was almost totally restricted to poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas of the medullary type (100% versus 14.3%; P < 0.001). Finally, polymerase chain reaction revealed EBV DNA in 5 tumor specimens, which was, however, restricted to the peritumor lymphoid infiltrate as shown by in situ hybridization. Correlation with the biology of the tumors revealed that only one patient with the uniform cell type died due to metastastic disease during the follow-up period (median, 31 months), which was the case in five of the seven patients with the pleomorphic-type carcinoma (P < 0.025). Our results clearly indicate that the poorly differentiated colonic carcinoma with minimal or no glandular structures constitute two different entities, a medullary and a pleomorphic variant, which markedly differ in their phenotype, genotype, and prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / pathology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ploidies
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction