The ‘grey area’ between small cell and non-small cell lung carcinomas. Light and electron microscopy versus clinical data in 14 cases



We studied 14 lung tumours which on light microscopy had posed difficulties on classification as either small cell or non-small cell carcinomas. The light and electron microscopical features were compared with patient follow-up data. Electron microscopy showed neuroendocrine granules in 12 cases, and adeno-and squamous cell differentiation but no neuroendocrine granules in the remaining two cases. The latter two cases showed prolonged patient survival (both patients alive after 21/2 and 2 years, respectively). Ten of the cases with neuroendocrine granules showed a rapid course of disease (death between 2½ weeks and 15 months after diagnosis) and marked initial response to multiagent chemotherapy. Thus, the clinical impression of these cases was that of small cell carcinoma. The remaining two cases with neuroendocrine granules showed a more protracted course, with death after 1½ and 2½ years. These two tumours did not show the light microscopical features of atypical carcinoid. The results illustrate the value of electron microscopy in predicting clinical behaviour of carcinomas difficult to place into small cell or non-small cell carcinoma groups. They also point to the existence of neuroendocrine carcinomas other than carcinoids with a more protracted course than small cell carcinomas.