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Endocr Pathol. 2006 Spring;17(1):1-18.

The many faces and mimics of papillary thyroid carcinoma.

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The Department of Pathology, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, USA.


This article provides an overview of the 15 histologic variants of papillary thyroid carcinoma listed by the 2004 World Health Organization (WHO) monograph on endocrine tumors. The histologic features, differential diagnosis, and clinical course of each variant are discussed in some detail. The follicular variants (conventional and macrofollicular) constitute a morphologic challenge because the majority of these tumors are encapsulated and, also, because, in many tumors, not all neoplastic cells show the nuclear features considered to be diagnostic of papillary carcinoma. As a result, most of these tumors are missed even by experienced pathologists. Moreover, hyperplastic thyroid lesions, follicular adenomas, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis may contain cells with clear nuclei resembling those of papillary carcinoma. Papillary carcinomas composed entirely of hyperchromatic cells have been overlooked. The WHO monograph defines papillary carcinoma with focal spindle and giant cell carcinoma components but its clinical behavior is unknown. Papillary carcinoma with an insular pattern that does not show the artifactual separation of the cell nests has been misinterpreted as the solid variant of papillary carcinoma. Papillary microcarcinomas include not only the conventional type and the follicular variants but also the tall cell and columnar cell variants.

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