Thymic carcinoma arising in thymoma is associated with alterations in immunohistochemical profile

Tseng Tong Kuo*, John K.C. Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

73 Scopus citations


Thymic carcinoma is an uncommon tumor. Most cases appear to arise de novo, but in rare instances they can arise in thymomas. We report the clinicopathologic features and immunohistochemical profile of five cases of thymic carcinoma accompanied by a component of thymoma. Immunohistochemical studies were performed with the avidin-biotin-peroxidase complex method using monoclonal antibodies to p53(DO7), CD99(O13), epithelial membrane antigen, CDS(NCL-CD54C7), vimentin (V9), and cytokeratins 7, 8, 18, and 19. The patients consisted of three men and two women with a median age of 57 years. One patient had myasthenia gravis, and the other four presented with chest symptoms. One patient had concurrent adenocarcinoma of the lung with metastasis. Four of the patients died within 15 months. The thymomas consisted of two large polygonal cell thymomas, two squamoid thymomas, and one spindle cell thymoma. The malignant components included two undifferentiated carcinomas, one spindle cell carcinoma, one squamous cell carcinoma, and one clear cell carcinoma with squamous differentiation. There was no correlation between the histologic types of the thymoma and the thymic carcinoma. In three cases, excluding the two squamoid thymomas, the thymic carcinomas occurred in the necrotic areas of the thymoma. They showed upregulated expression of epithelial membrane antigen and cytokeratins 7, 8, 18, and 19, similar to the so-called 'interface phenomenon' described in the invasion front of other types of carcinoma. Increased p53 protein expression was observed in all five carcinomas, and there was loss of CD99+ immature T lymphocytes. Among the thymic carcinomas, only the squamous component of the clear-cell carcinoma stained for CD5, a marker commonly expressed in thymic carcinomas. Paradoxically, a squamoid thymoma, but not its associated spindle cell carcinoma, expressed CD5, suggesting the acquisition of an 'aggressive' phenotype by the squamoid thymoma, but with loss of the marker on malignant transformation. One undifferentiated carcinoma acquired vimentin immunoreactivity, whereas four other carcinomas and all five thymomas were negative. In conclusion, thymic carcinoma can arise in any histologic type of thymoma, including spindle cell thymoma, which is generally regarded as a benign neoplasm. The prognosis appears to be poor. Tumor necrosis in a thymoma should alert the pathologist to search for malignant change. The malignant change is commonly associated with increased expression of epithelial membrane antigen, cytokeratin subtypes, or p53 protein, and loss of CD99+ immature T lymphocytes, and is occasionally associated with a change in the expression of CD5 or vimentin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1474-1481
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 12 1998


  • CD5
  • Cytokeratin
  • Epithelial membrane antigen
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Thymic carcinoma
  • Thymic neoplasm
  • Thymoma
  • p53 protein


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