Adrenocortical carcinosarcoma: a case report and review of the literature
© Sasaki et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 6 May 2010
Accepted: 5 August 2010
Published: 5 August 2010
Adrenocortical carcinosarcoma is an extremely rare and aggressive variant of adrenocortical carcinoma characterized by the presence of both carcinomatous and sarcomatous components, with the latter often showing heterologous differentiation. Due to the rarity and unusual histology, it may pose a diagnostic challenge. In order to increase awareness and identify potential diagnostic pitfalls, we report the ninth case of non-functioning adrenocortical carcinosarcoma in a 45-year-old man who presented with worsening epigastric pain and a left large retroperitoneal mass in close proximity to the body/tail of pancreas and third portion of the duodenum with displacement of the kidney without parenchymal invasion and multiple liver nodules detected by computed tomographic scan. On en bloc resection, the tumor grossly did not involve the pancreas, kidney or colon. Histologically, the tumor was composed of two distinct components - an epithelioid component with granular cytoplasm that stained for synaptophysin, Melan-A, calretinin, and vimentin compatible with adrenocortical differentiation, and a pleomorphic to spindled component that was positive for desmin and myogenin, compatible with rhabdomyosarcomatous differentiation. A wedge biopsy of a liver nodule showed morphologic features similar to the epithelial component of the primary tumor. The patient died three months after surgery due to locoregional and distant recurrence. Adrenocortical carcinosarcoma is a rare malignancy that adds to the differential diagnostic considerations for a retroperitoneal epithelioid malignancy. Awareness of this as a possibility will help in distinguishing this tumor from other carcinomas, melanomas, and true sarcomas.
Adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare but highly aggressive malignancy with an estimated annual incidence of between 1.5 to 2 per million population . Women are more commonly affected. There is a bimodal age distribution with cases a peak occurring before age 5 years and a second in the fourth to fifth decades . The prognosis is poor with a significant proportion (21% to 39%) of patient having distant metastasis at the time of presentation [2, 3] and a 5 year overall survival ranges between 38% to 60% . Even after an apparently curative resection, the majority of patients develop early tumor recurrence or distant metastasis [1–3].
Carcinosarcomas are defined as malignant neoplasms showing both epithelial and mesenchymal differentiation with heterologous features including rhabdomyoblastic, chondroid, or osteogenic differentiation . We report a case of primary adrenal carcinosarcoma and review the literature to raise awareness of this extremely rare variant of adrenal carcinoma with worse prognosis presenting high differential diagnosis difficulties.
An en-bloc resection of the mass which included a left radical nephrectomy, splenectomy, distal pancreatectomy, left partial colectomy, and wedge biopsy of one of the hepatic lesions were performed. However, despite this, at 3 months, the patient had a locoregional recurrence and progression of liver disease. Due to his poor performance status (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status 3), no chemotherapy was performed. The patient died 3 months after the surgery. Autopsy was not performed.
Histologically as well, there was no involvement of the pancreas, kidney, or colon, and the surrounding adipose tissue was unremarkable. The liver wedge biopsy showed a tumor nodule morphologically identical to the epithelioid component of the retroperitoneal tumor.
Adrenocortical carcinosarcoma immunohistochemical profile
Based on the histologic and immunohistochemical profile, the tumor was diagnosed as an adrenocortical carcinosarcoma.
Adrenocortical carcinoma containing a component of sarcoma or sarcoma-like (spindle cell) differentiation is extremely rare, with only 8 prior cases described [5–12]. According to WHO classification 2004 in other epithelial malignant neoplasms, these tumors are classified as sarcomatoid carcinoma. Within the broad category of sarcomatoid carcinoma, tumors with histological areas of both carcinoma and sarcoma containing differentiated sarcomatous elements, such as malignant cartilage, bone or skeletal muscle are subclassified as carcinosarcoma. To our knowledge, only 3 prior cases of carcinosarcoma have been reported [7–9].
Clinicopathologic features of adrenocortical sarcomatoid carcinoma
Size (cm) weight (g)
postoperative time of death
Okazumi et al. (1987)
Collina et al. (1989)
Decorato et al. (1990)
Fischer et al. (1992)
Virilization, weight loss
12.5 cm, 610 g
Barksdale et al. (1993)
Lee et al. (1997)
Sturm et al. (2008)
Coli et al.
Radiographically and even grossly, it is often difficult to confirm adrenal origin for these tumors due to the advanced presentation. Indeed, in two of 9 cases of sarcomatoid carcinoma, imaging studies could not correctly locate the adrenal origin of tumor. As such, the differential diagnostic considerations include other aggressive retroperitoneal malignancies including other carcinomas, particularly renal cell carcinoma, true sarcoma, large cell lymphoma, and metastases. Although some adrenocortical neoplasms produce steroid hormones, others are non-functional, which makes it difficult to identify specific adrenocortical tumor markers. In our case, hormone levels were unremarkable. Here, a thorough clinical history and precise characterization of structures involved may be useful in narrowing possibilities. In our case for instance, the pancreas, and kidney on thorough examination were grossly uninvolved arguing against these as primary sites of origin. There was no lymphadenopathy arguing against lymphoma, and there was no history of a prior malignancy or any other masses arguing against a metastasis.
The diagnosis of adrenocortical carcinosarcoma on histologic examination is often challenging as well. It requires thorough sampling of the specimen to confirm the biphasic pattern and identify a well differentiated carcinomatous component allowing to prove the adrenal origin as well as to rule out retroperitoneal sarcoma or poorly differentiated carcinoma.
The adrenal phenotype of this tumor was verified by the immunopositivity for a panel of immunohistochemical markers, namely, Melan-A , synaptophysin , calretinin , particularly on the well differentiated carcinomatous component. Of note, in contrast to most carcinomas, adrenocortical carcinomas are notoriously negative or only focally weakly positive for cytokeratins. In this study, we showed that sarcomatous component of the tumor also focally retains positivity for Melan-A, synaptophysin and calretinin, supporting the notion that sarcomatous area of the tumor has indeed originated from the adrenocortical carcinoma rather than representing a collision tumor. The sarcomatous component seen in our case contains frequent foci of rhabdomyoblastic cells. These foci could be sharply highlighted by desmin, myogenin and myoglobin, which is both a sensitive and specific marker for myogenic differentiation .
Similar to the clinicoradiographic diagnostic considerations, the histologic differential diagnostic considerations include 3 basic categories - other carcinosarcomas from other sites, most notably sarcomatoid renal cell carcinoma, true primary retroperitoneal soft tissue tumor, and metastases with sarcomatoid elements such as a germ cell tumor or rarely melanoma. Sarcomatoid renal cell carcinoma or hepatocellular carcinoma with sarcomatoid dedifferentiation both may show morphologically similar appearance with clear and eosinophilic cytoplasm. However, positive staining of CD56, inhibin, Melan-A, synaptophysin, calretinin and negative staining of pan-cytokeratin, EMA, Hepar-1 in adrenocortical sarcomatoid carcinoma may be of help in the differential diagnosis [17, 18]. A primary retroperitoneal sarcoma such as liposarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, or malignant peripheral nerve sheet tumor also needs to be excluded by careful histological and immunohistochemical analysis. The lack of well-differentiated liposarcomatous component and presence of well-differentiated adrenocortical carcinoma component excludes the possibility of de-differentiated liposarcoma. In difficult cases, immunohistochemical, fluorescence in situ hybridization or quantitative PCR analysis for CDK4 and MDM2 status may be of interest . Rhabdomyosarcoma is usually a neoplasm of children/infants and lacks well-differentiated adrenocortical carcinoma component. Malignant peripheral nerve sheet tumor with rhabdomyoblastic elements (Triton tumor) can be excluded by morphology as well as negativity of Melan-A, synaptophysin, and calretinin and positivity of S-100 [20, 21].
Metastatic melanoma with heterologous elements might enter the differential diagnosis since this will also be positive for Melan-A and negative for cytokeratin. This can be distinguished from an adrenocortical tumor by positivity for other melanocytic makers such as S-100, HMB-45, tyrosinase and negativity of calretinin, synaptophysin and inhibin . It is of note, however, that Coli et al. reported unusual positive staining of S-100 and HMB-45 in adrenocortical sarcomatoid carcinoma, which has not been reported previously for adrenocortical tumors. Although they interpreted this immunohistochemical pattern as aberrant melanocytic differentiation, further studies may be needed to confirm this unusual expression of S-100 and HMB-45. Mixed germ cell tumor, most often metastasis from testicular primary, with somatic teratomatous malignancy (rhabdomyosarcoma) can be excluded by positive staining of PLAP and cytokeratins and negative staining of vimentin, Melan-A and calretinin .
Together, based on our literature review, carcinomatous component of adrenocortical sarcomatoid carcinoma is immunoreactive for Melan-A (2 of 3 cases, 67%), synaptophysin (2 of 4 cases, 50%), calretinin (2 of 4 cases, 50%), inhibin (1 of 3 cases, 33%), vimentin (5 of 5 cases, 100%), Neuron-specific enolase (NSE) (2 of 2 cases, 100%), occasionally positive for AE1/AE3 (1 of 5 cases, 20%), and negative for chromogranin (0 of 3 cases, 0%), EMA (0 of 2 cases, 0%), and neurofilament (0 of 2 cases, 0%). Sarcomatous component is positive for desmin (4 of 4 cases, 100%), myogenin (2 of 2 cases, 100%), HHF35 (2 of 2 cases, 100%), vimentin (6 of 6 cases, 100%), myoglobin (1 of 1 case, 100%), caldesmon (1 of 1 case, 100%), smooth muscle actin (1 of 2 cases, 50%), calretinin (1 of 2 cases, 50%), Melan-A (1 of 3 cases, 33%), occasionally synaptophysin (1 of 4 cases, 25%) and negative for AE1/AE3 (0 of 5 cases, 0%), EMA (0 of 2 cases, 0%), HMB-45 (0 of 2 cases, 0%), inhibin (0 of 3 cases, 0%), chromogranin (0 of 3 cases, 0%).
In conclusion, we have reported the ninth case of adrenocortical sarcomatoid carcinoma with rhabdomyoblastic differentiation (carcinosarcoma). This lesion is often difficult to distinguish from other retroperitoneal neoplasms by radiographic imaging and is a highly aggressive form of adrenocortical malignancy. Thorough sampling, careful histological examination and widely extensive immunohistochemical investigation are often necessary to confirm adrenocortical origin and distinguish this tumor from other retroperitoneal sarcomatoid neoplasms.
Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this case report and accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.
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