Pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma in adults: A clinicopathologic study of 38 cases with emphasis on morphologic variants and recent skeletal muscle-specific markers

Mary A. Furlong, Thomas Mentzel, Julie C. Fanburg-Smith

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150 Scopus citations


Pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma (PRMS) is a rare and controversial tumor of skeletal muscle phenotype. Diagnostic criteria for PRMS by combined histology and currently available immunohistochemistry have not been clearly defined. We report 38 pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas in adults, explore morphologic variants, and discuss our experience with both specific and nonspecific skeletal muscle markers in these tumors. Clinical data, morphology, and immunohistochemistry were reviewed. Electron microscopy was performed. Of 38 cases, there were 28 males and 10 females. Patient ages ranged from 21 to 81 years (median = 54 y; mean = 51 y). Tumors were located in the lower extremity (n = 18), abdomen/retroperitoneum (n = 6), chest/abdominal wall (n = 5), spermatic cord/testes (n = 4), upper extremity (n = 3), and one each in the mouth and orbit. Tumor sizes ranged from 1.5 to 15.0 cm (mean = 7.3 cm; median = 6.8 cm). The cases were divided into three variants, each with large, atypical, pleomorphic polygonal rhabdomyoblasts (PRMB) with abundant eosinophilic cytoplasm in varying numbers and different morphologic backgrounds of round or spindled rhabdomyoblasts (RMB).1. Classic PRMS: Predominantly atypical PRMB in sheets (n = 8).2. Round cell PRMS: Clusters of PRMB throughout the tumor with a background of slightly atypical, medium-sized, round, blue RMB (n = 13).3. Spindle cell PRMS: Scattered PRMB in a predominance of atypical spindled RMB arranged in a storiform growth pattern (n = 17).Immunohistochemistry revealed the following: myoglobin (37/38), MyoD1 (19/36), skeletal muscle myogenin (myf4; 19/34), fast skeletal muscle myosin (4/5), desmin (36/38), muscle-specific actin (MSA; 25/35), smooth muscle actin (SMA; 15/33), and muscle specific myogenin (myf3; 25/35). Immunohistochemistry was supportive of skeletal muscle differentiation with at least one positive skeletal muscle-specific marker (myoglobin, MyoD1, fast skeletal muscle myosin, or myf4). In addition, all cases had some positivity for nonspecific muscle markers (desmin, MSA, SMA, myf3). Electron microscopy (EM), performed on eight selected cases from all three morphologic groups, demonstrated definitive skeletal muscle differentiation in all cases. Follow-up, available on 30 (79%) cases, revealed that 70% of patients died of disease (mean 20 months, range 1 month-108 months), 3% were alive with disease at 12 months (n = 1); and 27% had no evidence of disease (mean, 83 mo; range, 18 to 108 mo). PRMS, a tumor of predominantly middle-aged adult males in the lower extremity, can be diagnosed by the morphologic presence of scattered PRMB with immunohistochemical evidence of at least one skeletal muscle-specific marker. There are three morphologic variants of PRMS. The appropriate diagnosis of PRMS is significant as it is a high-grade sarcoma, with an aggressive clinical course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-603
Number of pages9
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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