Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the lung: a histologic and immunohistochemical study of 22 cases

Am J Surg Pathol. 1998 May;22(5):526-37. doi: 10.1097/00000478-199805000-00002.


Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC) of the lung is defined as a poorly differentiated and high-grade neuroendocrine tumor that is morphologically and biologically between atypical carcinoid and small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC). During a survey concerning bcl-2 protein expression in the subtypes of lung cancer, we noticed that two previously diagnosed non-SCLCs met the criteria for LCNEC. Because LCNEC is a newly recognized clinicopathologic entity and because all reported cases have been retrieved from the so-called "neuroendocrine tumor file," we suspected that LCNEC had been underdiagnosed. In the present study, we histologically reviewed 766 surgically resected lung cancers and were able to diagnose 22 (2.87%) LCNECs with the neuroendocrine features subsequently confirmed by immunostaining for multiple neuroendocrine markers. Each case stained positively for at least three general neuroendocrine markers, and 12 (54.5%) also were positive for neuroendocrine hormones. Histologically, most LCNECs showed a marked decrease in or a loss of organoid architecture and could be mistaken for poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Because our LCNECs are the first to be identified by retrospective review of routinely diagnosed lung cancers, and 18 had been classified as non-SCLC, they may represent cases relatively difficult to diagnose. The present study shows that the most difficult diagnostic factor of LCNEC is the recognition of its light microscopic neuroendocrine features, and LCNEC must be distinguished not only from atypical carcinoid or SCLC, but also from common non-SCLC. Histologically, when an organoid architecture is subtle or absent, the rosettelike structure becomes the best marker for the recognition of neuroendocrine differentiation. Clinically, the prognosis for our LCNECs was significantly worse than that for stage-comparable non-SCLCs (p = 0.046).

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoid Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinoid Tumor / mortality
  • Carcinoid Tumor / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2