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Semin Diagn Pathol. 2006 May;23(2):111-9.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors: differential diagnosis.

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  • 1Division of Gastrointestinal Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC 20306-6000, USA.


Availability of KIT tyrosine kinase inhibitors for specific treatment of GISTs has magnified the importance of accurate differential diagnosis of GIST from other tumors occurring in the GI tract and abdomen. The general problems in this distinction include histological mimicry of other mesenchymal tumors with GIST, occasional KIT-negativity of GIST, and KIT-positivity of non-GISTs. Up to 5% to 10% gastric GISTs and <2% of intestinal GISTs can be KIT-negative. The identification of these tumors as GISTs is based on knowledge of the spectrum of GIST morphology, and can be supported by molecular diagnosis of KIT and PDGFRA mutations (the latter pertain to gastric tumors). True smooth muscle tumors (rare in GI tract except in esophagus and colon) can be separated from GISTs by the eosinophilic tinctorial quality of tumor cells, positivity for smooth muscle markers, and negativity for KIT. Desmoids can form large GIST-like masses, but are composed of spindled or stellate-shaped cells in a densely collagenous stroma. Negativity for KIT and nuclear positivity for beta-catenin are differentiating features. GI schwannomas, melanoma, and rare primary clear cell sarcoma are S100-positive, usually with characteristic histology. The latter two can be KIT-positive. KIT-positive non-GISTs include some sarcomas, especially angiosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma, extramedullary myeloid tumor, seminoma, and a few carcinomas, notably small cell carcinoma of lung. Spurious KIT-positivity, seen with some polyclonal KIT antibodies, has been a source of confusion leading to probable false-positive results in fibroblastic tumors and occasional other sarcomas, such as leiomyosarcomas. Integration of histological features with carefully standardized immunohistochemistry, supported by KIT and PDGFRA mutation analysis, is the cornerstone of state-of-the art differential diagnosis of GIST. To comprehensively capture all GISTs, KIT immunostains should be performed on all unclassified epithelioid and mesenchymal tumors of the abdomen. This is a US government work. There are no restrictions on its use.

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