Virchows Archiv

, Volume 466, Issue 1, pp 13–20 | Cite as

Medullary carcinoma of the colon: can the undifferentiated be differentiated?

  • Anne-Marie Kanstrup FiehnEmail author
  • Morten Grauslund
  • Anders Glenthøj
  • Linea Cecilie Melchior
  • Ben Vainer
  • Gro Linno Willemoe
Original Article


Medullary carcinoma of the colon is a rare variant of colorectal cancer claimed to have a more favorable prognosis than conventional adenocarcinomas. The histopathologic appearance may be difficult to distinguish from poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma. The study aimed to evaluate the diagnostic interobserver agreement and to characterize the immunohistochemical and molecular differences between these two subgroups. Fifteen cases initially classified as medullary carcinoma and 30 cases of poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas were included. Two pathologists reviewed the slides independently without knowledge of the original diagnosis and subgrouped the tumors into the two entities. Agreement was reached in 31 of 45 cases (69 %) with kappa = 0.32. An extensive immunohistochemical panel was performed, and KRAS, NRAS, and BRAF mutational status was assessed. Of the 31 cases with diagnostic agreement, the expression of only MLH-1 along with corresponding expression of PMS-2 differed significantly (p = 0.04). A high rate of BRAF mutations was detected in both subgroups without significant differences. Expression of MLH-1 was superior in dividing the tumors into two separate entities with significant differences in CK20 (p = 0.005) expression and in the rate of BRAF mutations (p = 0.0035). In conclusion, medullary carcinomas of the colon are difficult to discriminate from poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma even with the help of immunohistochemical and molecular analyses. This raises the question whether these morphological subtypes should be maintained or whether an alternative classification of poorly differentiated colorectal adenocarcinomas based on MLH-1 status rather than morphology should be suggested.


Medullary carcinoma Immunohistochemical profile Molecular profile Interobserver agreement MLH-1 



No financial support has been received.

Conflicts of interest

No conflicts to be declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne-Marie Kanstrup Fiehn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Morten Grauslund
    • 1
  • Anders Glenthøj
    • 1
  • Linea Cecilie Melchior
    • 1
  • Ben Vainer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gro Linno Willemoe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PathologyRigshospitaletCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical SciencesCopenhagenDenmark

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