Which histologic findings indicate the adenocarcinoma subtype of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Histologically, adenocarcinomas form glands and produce mucin. Mucin production can be identified with mucicarmine or periodic acid-Schiff staining. The WHO classification of lung cancer divides adenocarcinomas into (1) acinar, (2) papillary, (3) bronchoalveolar, and (4) mucus-secreting. Bronchoalveolar carcinoma is a distinct clinicopathologic entity that appears to arise from type II pneumocytes and may manifest as a solitary peripheral nodule, multifocal disease, or a pneumonic form, which can spread rapidly from one lobe to another.

Stage for stage, adenocarcinomas are associated with worse prognoses than SCCs, with the exception of T1 N0 M0 tumors.

Large cell carcinoma is the least common of all NSCLCs. It is composed of large cells with prominent nucleoli, and no mucin production or intercellular bridging is identified. Many tumors previously diagnosed as large cell carcinomas are identified as poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas or SCCs after advanced immunohistochemical staining, electron microscopy, and monoclonal antibody studies.

A variant of large cell carcinoma has been identified; it contains neuroendocrine features and is called large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma. Large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas are associated with a worse prognosis than large cell carcinomas.

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