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Am J Surg Pathol. 1999 Nov;23(11):1370-8.

Chondrosarcoma of the base of the skull: a clinicopathologic study of 200 cases with emphasis on its distinction from chordoma.

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  • 1James Homer Wright Pathology Laboratories, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.


Conventional chondrosarcoma (CSA) of the skull base is an uncommon neoplasm that can resemble chordoma, and indeed it is misdiagnosed frequently as such. This has important clinical implications, because when treated with similar aggressive treatment strategies, CSA has a much better prognosis than chordoma. In an effort to identify those morphologic and immunohistochemical features that help to identify conventional skull base CSA correctly and to understand its prognosis better, particularly compared with chordoma, when treated with surgery and proton beam irradiation, the authors performed a clinicopathologic analysis of 200 CSAs. The patients ranged in age from 10 to 79 years (mean, 39 years), 87 patients were male and 113 patients were female, and most presented with symptoms related to the central nervous system. Approximately 6% of the tumors arose in the sphenoethmoid complex, 28% originated in the clivus, and 66% developed in the temperooccipital junction. Histologically, 15 tumors (7.5%) were classified as hyaline CSA, 59 (29.5%) as myxoid CSA, and 126 (63%) as mixed hyaline and myxoid CSA. A total of 101 (50.5%) tumors were grade 1, 57 (28.5%) had areas of grades 1 and 2, and 42 (21%) were pure grade 2 neoplasms. The vast majority of patients originated from referring hospitals, and the diagnosis was changed prospectively at our institution to CSA from chordoma in 74 patients (37%). Of the tumors studied immunohistochemically, 96 of 97 (98.9%) stained for S-100 protein, 0 of 97 (0%) stained for keratin, and faint staining for epithelial membrane antigen was seen in 7 of 88 tumors (7.95%). All patients underwent high-dose postoperative fractionated precision conformal radiation therapy with a dose that ranged from 64.2 to 79.6 Cobalt-Gray-equivalents (median, 72.1 Cobalt-Gray-equivalents, given in 38 fractions. The 200 patients had a median follow-up of 63 months (range, 2.1 mos - 18.5 yrs). Tumor control was defined as lack of progression by clinical and radiographic assessment. Based on this definition, there were three local recurrences, and two of these patients died of tumor-related complications. The 5- and 10-year local control rates were 99% and 98% respectively, and the 5- and 10-year disease-specific survival rates were both 99%. In contrast to CSA, the 5- and 10-year survival rates of chordoma have been reported to be approximately 51 % and 35% respectively, and in our institution intensive treatment has resulted in 5- and 10-year progression-free survival rates of 70% and 45% respectively. CSA of the skull base can be distinguished reliably from chordoma, and this distinction is important because skull base CSA has an excellent prognosis when treated with surgery and proton beam irradiation, whereas chordomas have a substantially poorer clinical course despite similar aggressive management.

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