The Undifferentiated Carcinoma That Became a Melanoma: Re-biopsy of a Cancer of an Unknown Primary Site

A Case Report

Oluf Dimitri Røe; Sissel Gyrid Freim Wahl


J Med Case Reports. 2017;11(82) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: Cancer of unknown primary site is still a demanding condition as it is per definition metastatic, with heterogeneous biological behavior, and it is often resistant to therapy. Cancer of unknown primary site accounts for approximately 1 to 5 % of all cancers, but is currently among the top six causes of cancer deaths in Western countries. To correctly identify the biological origin of the tumor, a large spectrum of differential diagnoses must be considered and scrutinized. At progression, re-biopsy might be necessary to reveal the true origin of the tumor or actionable targets.

Case presentation: A 62-year-old Norwegian woman, with a fast growing lump in her left groin, was primarily diagnosed as having undifferentiated carcinoma that was BRAF V600 positive. There was complete response with paclitaxel-carboplatin and she was recurrence-free for 18 months. She had recurrence in both lungs and subcutaneously in her left groin and thigh; a re-biopsy revealed transformation to a malignant melanoma. She was resistant to BRAF inhibitors, then treated with ipilimumab and is currently a long-term survivor of 4 years and 4 months since the first diagnosis, with no clinical or radiological evidence of recurrence.

Conclusions: A biopsy from patients with metastasis of unknown primary should be analyzed thoroughly to identify organ of origin, molecular make-up, and possible molecular targets. Re-biopsy of cancer of unknown primary site at progression can reveal the true cellular origin of the tumor as well as provide novel therapeutic opportunities, including immunotherapy.