The role of cytokeratins 20 and 7 and estrogen receptor analysis in separation of metastatic lobular carcinoma of the breast and metastatic signet ring cell carcinoma of the gastrointestinal tract


Central Hospital, Department of Pathology, S 79182 Falun, Sweden. e-mail:


Metastatic signet ring cell carcinomas of unknown primary site can represent a clinical problem. Gastrointestinal signet ring cell carcinomas and invasive lobular carcinomas of the breast are the most common sources of these metastases. Immunohistochemical algorithms have been successfully used in the search for the unknown primary adenocarcinomas. In the present study a series of primary invasive lobular breast carcinomas (79 cases) and their metastases and a series of gastrointestinal signet ring cell carcinomas (22 primary and 13 metastases) were stained with monoclonal antibodies for cytokeratin (CK) 20 and CK7 and for estrogen receptors (ER). The staining was evaluated as negative (no staining), focally (less than 10% of the tumor cells stained) or diffusely positive. All the primary and metastatic gastrointestinal signet ring cell carcinomas proved to be CK20 positive, while only 2/79 (3%) of the primary and 1/21 metastatic lobulr carcinomas (5%) stained positively for this CK. None of the gastrointestinal carcinomas and the majority of the lobular carcinomas expressed ER. The majority of the tumors were CK7+. Using CK20 alone, 33 of 34 metastases could be properly classified as gastrointestinal (CK20+) or mammary (CK20-). ER identified 31/34 of breast cancer metastases. By combining the results of CK20 and ER staining all the metastases could be properly classified as the CK20+/ER- pattern identified all the gastrointestinal tumors.