Medline: 3859120

Acta Cytologica 29(3): 206-210, 1985.

The ultrastructure of metastatic adenocarcinoma in serous fluids: an aid in identification of the primary site of the neoplasm.

Hanna WM, Kahn HJ


Identification of the primary sites of metastatic adenocarcinomas is a diagnostic problem, particularly in cases of occult primary neoplasms. We studied the ultrastructural morphology of 16 metastatic adenocarcinomas that presented as effusions to establish organ-specific features that would characterize adenocarcinomas from various sites. The nine cases in which the site of the primary carcinoma was known included seven derived from the breast, one from the ovary and one from the colon. The primary site was unknown in seven cases at the time of presentation. After investigations, the primary site became known in five cases (lung, colon and appendix, one case each, and the ovary in two cases). Ultrastructurally diagnostic features could be detected in gastrointestinal, ovarian, bronchioloalveolar-cell and breast carcinomas. In gastrointestinal carcinomas, the presence of short microvilli with long rootlets was specific for the group. The lamellar inclusions of type II pneumocytes were diagnostic of bronchioloalveolar-cell carcinoma. The microvilli in ovarian carcinomas were long, slender and bushy, as in mesotheliomas; however, the cells lacked the perinuclear condensation of tonofilaments seen in the latter. Breast carcinomas were associated with numerous intracytoplasmic lumina, electron-dense granules and aggregates of small vesicular bodies. We conclude that ultrastructural examination of adenocarcinomas in serious fluids can help to identify the primary site of certain neoplasms or at least shorten the list of possibilities. This may reduce costs and minimize the discomfort patients have to undergo by curtailing extensive invasive investigations in search of unknown primary neoplasms.

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