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Histologic Grading and Prognostic Biomarkers in Salivary Gland Carcinomas

Seethala, Raja R. MD

Advances in Anatomic Pathology: January 2011 - Volume 18 - Issue 1 - p 29–45
doi: 10.1097/PAP.0b013e318202645a
Review Articles

Both the variety and rarity of salivary gland carcinomas pose challenge for using histologic grade and biomarkers to predict outcome. Mucoepidermoid carcinoma is the histologic subtype for which grading is most prognostically and therapeutically relevant. This tumor is graded using standard schemes in a 3-tier manner with the intermediate-grade category shows the most variability between grading systems and thus the most controversy in management. The t(11;19)(q21; p13) MECT1-MAML2 translocation may be an objective marker that can help to further stratify difficult cases. Adenoid cystic carcinomas are graded based on pattern with solid areas correlating with a worse prognosis. Occasionally, adenoid cystic carcinomas may undergo transformation to highly aggressive pleomorphic high-grade carcinomas with frequent nodal metastases. Comparative genomic hybridization has revealed several chromosomal regions (such as 1p32-p36, 6q23-q27) of prognostic interest in adenoid cystic carcinoma. Carcinoma ex-pleomorphic adenoma is actually a category of tumors rather than a single tumor type with both aggressive and indolent versions. These tumors should be further qualified as to type/grade of carcinoma and extent, as intracapsular and minimally invasive tumors behave favorably. Acinic cell carcinomas, although generally considered low grade, can recur, metastasize, or even prove lethal in a significant number of cases suggesting amenability to a grading scheme to separate these biologic groups. Although aggressive histologic parameters (anaplasia, necrosis, and mitoses) are predictive of poor outcome, a standard grading scheme does not yet exists. Acinic cell carcinomas can also undergo high-grade transformation.

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA

Reprints: Raja R. Seethala, MD, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, A614.X PUH, 200 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (e-mail:

All figures can be viewed online in color at

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.