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Original paper

Colon cancer with micropapillary carcinoma component: a clinopathologic study of 9 cases

Naoto Kuroda, Kenji Yorita

Pol J Pathol 2017; 68 (2): 102-108
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Carcinoma with micropapillary pattern (MPP) has been described in various organs including breast, urinary bladder, lung, ovary, and salivary gland [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. MPP is defined as tight small cell clusters surrounded by cleft-like space and lacking true fibrovascular cores and noting reverse polarity. Invasive micropapillary carcinoma arising in the colon has been for the first time been reported by Sakamoto et al. [7]. To date, the majority of reported cases are single case report [8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]. However, there are only a few reports on a large scale clinicopathological study of colon cancer with MPP [16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. Although colon cancer with MPP behaves aggressively even in TNM Stage I and II, there is little evidence on the clinical outcome in this tumour [16]. Accordingly, in this article, we performed a clinicopathological study of nine cases of colon cancer with MPP and compared them with colon cancer without micropapillary pattern (non-MPP) in clinicopathological parameters and prognosis.

Material and methods

This study was approved by the Ethical Committee of Kochi Red Cross Hospital (No. 214). Among 617 surgically resected colon and rectal cancers between 2006 and 2016, 9 cases of colon cancer with MPP were extracted from pathological files. The sex ratio, age of patients, anatomic site of the tumour, gross findings, and pathological findings including percentage of MPP in total tumour volume, associated histological type, tumour depth, lymphovascular invasion, perineural invasion, lymph node metastasis and pathological stage, follow-up duration, additional therapy, and clinical outcome have been re-evaluated. Tumour stage was coded according to the seventh edition of the American Joint Committee on Cancer/Union for International Cancer Control staging system [21]. Histologic sections of surgically resected colon cancer were cut from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue blocks and stained with haematoxylin and eosin. For the immunohistochemistry, tissue sections were cut and stained with Ventana Benchmark Ultra autostainer (Ventana Medical Systems, Tucson, AZ). Primary antibodies against villin (ID2C3, 1 : 100, DAKO, Glostrup, Denmark), CD10 (56C6, prediluted, Novocastra Laboratories Ltd., Newcastle, UK), CA125 (M11, 1 : 50, DAKO, Glostrup, Denmark), E-cadherin (NCH-38, 1 : 100, DAKO, Glostrup, Denmark), vimentin (V9, 1 : 1600, DAKO, Glostrup, Denmark), HER2 (4B5, prediluted, Ventana, Tokyo, Japan), BRAFV600E (VE1, 1 : 50, Spring Biosciences, CA, USA), and ALK (5A4, prediluted, Nichirei, Tokyo, Japan) were employed in this study. For the comparison between colon cancer with and without MPP, 50 cases without MPP surgically resected in 2010 were selected. The sex (male or female), tumour site (right or left colon), tumour depth (pT1 or pT2 ≤), lymphatic invasion (absent or present), vascular invasion (absent or present), lymph node metastasis (absent or present), and pathological stage (low, less than II or high, more than III) were compared in both groups. Among 50 cases of non-MPP group, the clinical outcome of 38 cases were available. Comparison of clinicopathological parameters of both groups was performed by Fisher’s exact probability test. Survival curves in both groups were constructed using Kaplan-Meier method, and the differences between curves were examined by long-rank test. A significant difference was considered for p values less than 0.05. In statistical analysis, BellCurve software for Windows (SSRI, Tokyo, Japan) was employed. Mutational analyses of K-RAS and N-RAS genes for one case were submitted to the laboratory of SRL company, Tokyo, Japan.


Clinical features

Clinical characteristics are summarised in Table I. Colon cancer with MPP accounted for 1.5% (9/617) of all colon or rectal cancers. The patients consisted of 6 men and 3 women. One case has been previously reported [8]. The age of patients ranged from 51 to 79 years with a mean age of 65.6 years. Regarding the follow-up information, 6 cases were available. Two patients received adjuvant chemotherapy after the operation, and one patient underwent partial resection of the liver for subsequent liver metastasis. The follow-up duration ranged from 2 to 110 months with a mean of 52 months. Four patients were alive without disease and two patients were alive with distant metastasis.

Pathological findings

Gross findings

Macroscopic findings are summarised in Table II. Seven of nine tumours arose in the sigmoid colon. Five tumours showed ulcerative and localised type, and 4 tumours noted ulcerative and infiltrating type (Fig. 1). The cut surface showed a whitish colour with a various proportion of necrosis. No haemorrhage was seen in any of the cases. The size of tumour in the largest dimension ranged from 13 to 70 mm with a mean size of 49.4 mm.

Histological findings

Histological features are summarised in Table III. As shown as a definition, MPP consisted of small cell clusters surrounded by cleft-like space and lacking true fibrovascular cores and demonstrating reverse polarity, namely ‘inside-out” patterns. Tumour clusters of MPP were composed of approximately 3 to 20 cells. MPP usually accounted for a minor component in total tumour volume, which ranged from 3 to 40% with a mean percentage of 19.2% (Fig. 2A). Associated histological subtype showed moderately differentiated tubular adenocarcinoma in all cases (Fig. 2B). In addition, papillary adenocarcinoma and mucinous adenocarcinoma were identified in one case. The tumour depth consisted of 1 at the proper muscle, 3 at subserosa, 3 at serosa, and 2 in invasion to neighbouring tissue. Lymphatic and venous invasion by cancer cells was observed in 7 and 7 cases, respectively. Perineural invasion was noted in 4 cases. Metastasis to lymph node was noted in 6 cases. The pathological stage was composed of 3 cases in stage IV, 3 cases in stage IIIa, 2 cases in stage II, and 1 in stage I.

Immunohistochemical findings

Immunohistochemical results of MPP are summarised in Table IV. Micropapillary carcinoma showed positivity for E-cadherin in all cases (Fig. 3A). When the expression of E-cadherin in MPP was compared with that of tubular adenocarcinoma, decreased expression of E-cadherin in membrane was observed in 7 of 9 tumours. Among them, four tumours showed aberrant cytoplasmic expression. No reactivity for vimentin was found in any of the tumours (Fig. 3B). The reverse polarity of villin (Fig. 3C) (9/9, diffuse 8/9, focal 1/9) in the micropapillary carcinoma component was superior to that of CA125 (6/9, focal) or CD10 (5/9, diffuse 3/9, focal 2/9) (Fig. 3D). Neoplastic cells demonstrated no positive reaction for HER2, BRAFV600E, and ALK proteins in all tumours with MPP.

Molecular genetic findings

The mutation of codons 12, 13, 59, 61, 117, and 146 in K-RAS and N-RAS genes was negative in one case (Case 6).

Comparison of clinicopathological parameters and prognosis between micropapillary and non-micropapillary groups

As shown in Table V, there were statistically no significant differences in sex, tumour site, tumour depth, lymphatic invasion, vascular invasion, lymph node metastasis, and pathological stage between colon cancer with MPP and non-MPP groups. Furthermore, there was no difference in overall and recurrence-free survival between both groups, as noted in Fig. 4.


Gross finding of colon cancer with MPP seems to be indistinguishable from colon cancer without MPP. The propensity for sigmoid colon in MPP seems to reflect the original propensity of usual colon cancer. Histologically, micropapillary carcinoma is characterised by cell clusters consisting of a small number of neoplastic cells, lack of fibrovascular cores, and “inside-out” growth pattern. The “inside-out” pattern can be detected by MUC1 or EMA immunohistochemistry in most breast and urinary bladder cancers. However, these proteins are not useful for the detection of reverse polarity of colon cancer with MPP [17]. Instead, villin and CD10 seems to be available markers of reverse polarity in colonic micropapillary carcinoma [17]. In the present study, villin seems to be superior in the detection of reverse polarity to CD10 or CA125. Micropapillary carcinoma was associated with moderately differentiated tubular adenocarcinoma in all cases. This result is consistent with previous reports [7, 20]. Additionally, the micropapillary component is not main, but minor of neoplastic components, whose mean average accounted for 19% of the total tumour volume. This result is also compatible with the previous result [15]. In the present study, lymphatic invasion, vascular invasion, perineural invasion, and metastasis to lymph nodes were observed in 7, 7, 5, and 6 cases, respectively. Additionally, in the present study, 8 cases showed the invasion deeper than subserosa, and 6 cases showed a high stage, including IIIa and IV. These results seem to be similar to those of the previous report that micropapillary carcinoma had a higher frequency of lymphovascular invasion, perineural invasion, higher depth of invasion, and more positive lymph nodes than usual adenocarcinoma [17]. In contrast, some superficial colon cancers with micropapillary carcinoma up to the submucosal layer in invasive depth have been reported. However, even such cases can cause a marked lymphovascular invasion or metastasis to lymph nodes [9, 11, 13]. Therefore, pathologists need to seek micropapillary carcinoma carefully in colonic biopsy materials. Regarding the prognosis, previous researchers described that colonic micropapillary carcinoma behaves in an aggressive fashion [16, 18]. However, no patients died of disease with follow-up duration from 2 to 110 months with a mean of 52 months. Furthermore, there were no significant differences in overall and disease-free survival times between MPP and non-MPP groups of colon cancer in the present study. This result may reflect the original clinical behaviour of colon cancer or may not affect the clinical outcome because of the minor component of micropapillary carcinoma. Recently, bladder micropapillary carcinoma was classified as a luminal subtype, a favourable prognosis group in gene expression profile [22]. It is possible that micropapillary carcinoma of the colon may resemble that of the bladder at the molecular genetic level. Gonzalez et al. have recently reported that epithelial-mesenchymal transition is common in colon micropapillary carcinoma [23]. In contrast, micropapillary carcinoma does not seem to be involved in epithelial-mesenchymal transition, based on the results of this study. The alteration of BRAF or ALK gene has been identified in colon cancer [24, 25, 26]. However, these genes do not seem to be involved in the pathogenesis of colon micropapillary carcinoma. The number of cases of colon cancer with MPP in the present study is too small to draw conclusions of the biological behaviour of this tumour. Because RAS mutational analyses were performed in only one case, these data are not relevant. Accordingly, further examination in a large-scale study will be necessary in order to elucidate the biological behaviour or clinicopathological characteristics of colon cancer with MPP.
MPP should be discriminated from tumour budding and poorly differentiated clusters (PDCs). Tumour budding is defined as single cells or small clusters of dedifferentiated tumour cells at the invasive front [27]. PDCs are composed of five or more cancer cells without glandular formation both at the invasive edge and within the tumour [28]. MPP generally consists of three to 20 cells without fibrovascular cores and with cleft-like space at the interface to the stroma. Three categories share the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, namely with decreased expression of E-cadherin [27, 28]. Therefore, these categories may share overlapping features in morphological and biological aspects. In the differential diagnosis, tumour budding consists of single cells or small clusters, whereas MPP and PDCs are composed of several cells or small to moderate clusters. The degree of cleft-like space may be an important diagnostic clue in discriminating MPP from PDCs [28].
In conclusion, colon cancer with MPP is characterised by frequent association with moderately differentiated tubular adenocarcinoma as a minor component. In clinicopathological indicators such as sex, tumour location, tumour depth, lymphovascular invasion, lymph node metastasis, or pathological stage and clinical behaviour, there seems to be no difference between MPP and non-MPP of the colon. Villin immunohistochemistry is useful in the detection of reverse polarity of MPP of colon cancer.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Address for correspondence

Naoto Kuroda
Department of Diagnostic Pathology
Kochi Red Cross Hospital
Shin-honmachi 2-13-51, Kochi City
Kochi 780-8562, Japan
e-mail: kurochankochi@yahoo.co.jp
Copyright: © 2017 Polish Association of Pathologists and the Polish Branch of the International Academy of Pathology This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
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