Problems in Pathologic Staging of Radical Prostatectomy Specimens
John R. Srigley
Credit Valley Hospital
Mississauga, ON, Canada
|A normal gland weighs approximately 20 grams in young adults, 20-40 years|
|The urethra passes through center of gland with a sharp 35-degree angle at the halfway point to form proximal and distal urethral segments|
|Verumontanum arises from the posterior aspect of distal urethra and is associated with the openings of the majority of ducts|
|The utricle is a small mullerian remnant located proximal to the verumontanum|
|Most of the gland is surrounded by a dense fibromuscular capsule which is best defined posteriorly and laterally|
|The capsule is poorly defined anteriorly and at the apex making assessment of "extracapsular spread" difficult|
|The major nerve supply to the gland comes via the paired neurovascular bundles which enter the gland laterally near the base|
|This is one reason that most carcinomas which extend beyond the gland do so at this location|
|The paired seminal vesicles are embedded in a dense fibromuscular stroma attached to the posterior bladder wall and drain into the ejaculatory ducts|
|The capsule is also poorly defined at this region|
|Historically the gland was divided into lobes but currently is thought of more in terms of "zones" that have distinctive clinicopathologic correlations.|
|Accounts for 25% of normal prostate|
|Roughly triangular shaped region with apex at orifice of the ejaculatory ducts in the verumontanum and its base along posterior bladder base|
|It surrounds the ejaculatory ducts|
|About 5% of carcinomas thought to arise here.|
|Accounts for 5% of normal gland|
|Comprises 2 small lobes which for practical purposes surround the proximal urethra extending from the bladder neck to near the angle of the urethra|
|Nodular hyperplasia (BPH) almost exclusively arises in this zone|
|Approximately 10-20% of carcinomas arise here|
|Accounts for 70% of the normal gland|
|Surrounds the distal urethra making up the entire apical portion of the gland and extends proximally to near the bladder base peripherally at the posterior and lateral aspects|
|80% of carcinomas arise here|
Anterior Fibromuscular Stroma
|Gland-free zone consisting of dense fibromuscular connective tissue|
|Blends imperceptibly into bladder neck musculature and apical connective tissue|
|Mostly thick bands of smooth muscle but skeletal muscle also may be present|
|The gland is essentially made up of numerous tubuloalveolar glands embedded in a fibromuscular stroma|
|The prostatic acini and ducts are all lined by a double layered epithelium made up of basal and secretory cells|
|The basal cells are located between the secretory cells and the basement membrane and likely represent the normal proliferative compartment of the gland|
|The basal cells do not stain for PSA or PAP but can be highlighted with stains for high molecular weight cytokeratin|
|The secretory cells are tall and columnar with clear to pale pink (eosinophilic) cytoplasm|
|The secretory cells stain for PSA and PAP|
|Central zone glands differ from peripheral zone glands in that they have more complex architecture often with micropapillary structures and Roman arch formation. The secretory cells commonly display cytoplasmic lipochrome pigment and the surrounding stroma is dense and compact in comparison to the looser stroma which is characteristically around peripheral zone glands|
|Normal transition zone glands are similar to peripheral zone glands. However, in the aging male, evidence of glandular and stromal hyperplasia is commonly found|
|The prostatic urethra is lined by transitional epithelium which extends for short segments into some ducts|
|The seminal vesicle also has a double layered epithelium characterized by the presence of a golden-brown pigment (lipofuscin) and large pleomorphic (monster) nuclei.|
RADICAL PROSTATECTOMY SPECIMENS
Radical prostatectomy specimens are commonly encountered in a modern surgical pathology practice. The
information derived from such specimens is used in planning for adjuvant therapy such as radiation and is
also used for general prognostic purposes. It is important that the radical prostatectomy specimens are
handled in a standardized fashion that allows derivation of the relevant prognostic information.
Handling a Radical Prostatectomy Specimen
There are a variety of methods of handling a radical prostatectomy specimen. In my laboratory, we
process the complete gland in the following fashion:
|Specimens are generally received fixed in 10% neutral buffered formalin, recommended fixation time 18-24 hours.|
|Weigh specimen (grams) and measure in three dimensions; also include measurements of seminal vesicles.|
|Outer aspect is painted with ink (green on right, blue on left; Davidson marking inks); some authors use additional colors to indicate other areas such as apex and base.|
|The distal 1-1.5 cm apical segment is transected and sectioned in a radial fashion (analogous to cone biopsy).|
|The basal (bladder neck) transverse slice is removed and sectioned perpendicular to the bladder neck surface (inked).|
|Radial/perpendicular sections are used for the apical and bladder neck margins rather than "shave" or enface sections. The latter can result in spurious positivity if the block face is not flat at the time of sectioning.|
|Remainder of gland transversely sectioned perpendicular to the rectal surface at 3-5 mm intervals.|
|Seminal vesicles transversely sectioned from base to tip at 3-5 mm intervals.|
|All sectioned tissue including apical and bladder neck (basal) sections are laid out on a plexiglass orientation board that includes markers for left, right, apex and base.|
|A photocopy of plexiglass orientation board obtained.|
|Block legend indicating cassette numbers written on photocopied sheet.|
|In general, transverse sections are quadrisected, however, in large glands, sometimes six blocks are required.|
|Photocopied sheets may be used during histological assessment for documentation of presence and extent of tumor and to indicate other observations such as extraprostatic extension and margin positivity.|
In my experience, it takes approximately one block per gram of radical prostatectomy specimen. The
average number of blocks per radical prostatectomy specimen in my own practice is about 38.
There is data in the literature suggesting that partial submission strategies can provide the required
prognostic factor information. In an era of cost containment, such strategies may be prudent. In the
situation where there is a dominant palpable nodule involving one side of the gland, the whole involved
side may be processed with only selective sampling of the opposite side. In the modern era of PSA
screening, dominant palpable nodules are becoming much less common and in these situations a gross tumor
is usually not visualized. Partial sampling strategies can involve submission of alternate transverse
slices of the gland. In such methods, it is important to include the apical and basal segments in their
entirety as described above. In some situations, one has to deal with very large hyperplastic glands
(>75 grams) with a prominent nodular transition zone. In these situations, one can remove the
transition zone from each transverse slice and only submit the peripheral tissue in its entirely.
Selective samples from the right and left transition zones should also be obtained. In this fashion,
considerable numbers of blocks can be saved. In situations where no tumor is identified in the first
round, the remainder of the tissue would then have to be processed. In most situations, however, tumor
is readily identified in the initial partial sampling.
Reporting of Radical Prostatectomy Specimens with Emphasis on Prognostic
The histologic assessment of radical prostatectomy specimens provides important prognostic attributes
of prostate cancer that warrant being routinely reported. The College of American Pathologists (CAP) has
developed a classification system for prognostic factors in solid tumours and this has been advocated for
usage in prostate cancer. Category 1 prognostic factors are those that have been deemed to be of proven
prognostic significance and are useful in clinical patient management. In radical prostatectomy
specimens, the Gleason score, pathologic stage and margin status fall into category 1 along with
preoperative serum PSA. Category 2 prognostic factors are those that "show promise" as predictive or
prognostic factors based on evidence from published studies but still require further evaluation. Tumor
volume (intraglandular extent) and histologic subtype fit into this category.
There are a large number of category 3 prognostic factors where there is some scientific evidence to
support their adoption as diagnostic or prognostic factors but where the data is too preliminary.
Category 3 factors include perineural invasion, lymph-vascular space invasion, proliferation markers
and apoptotic markers, microvessel density measurements, neuroendocrine marker status and various other
phenotypic and genotypic markers.
Based on literature review and consensus development, it has been recommended by the CAP that the
factors listed in table 1 be reported in radical prostatectomy specimens. All of these factors are
assessed by microscopic evaluation.
Table 1 - Prognostic Factors Recommended For Reporting In Radical Prostatectomy Specimens
|Histologic grade: Gleason score with primary and secondary grades|
|Tumor size: Percentage of prostatic tissue involved by carcinoma|
|Pathologic stage: TNM system application|
|Margins: Location and extent of margins involved with tumor|
While 95% of prostatic adenocarcinomas are of conventional or acinar type, there are a number of
variants that have been identified. These are listed in table 2 using a classification suggested in the
AFIP Fascicle on Prostate Tumors.
Table 2 - Histologic Variants Of Prostatic Carcinoma
|Prostatic duct adenocarcinoma|
|Mucinous (colloid) adenocarcinoma|
|Signet ring cell carcinoma|
|Squamous cell carcinoma|
|Basaloid and adenoid cystic carcinoma|
|Transitional cell carcinoma|
|Small cell carcinoma|
|Undifferentiated carcinoma, not otherwise specified|
The subtypes are uncommon but many of them do have a special prognostic significance. For instance,
small cell carcinoma is a particularly aggressive neoplasm which may occur has a pure form or in
combination with ordinary adenocarcinoma. There may be a role of adjuvant chemotherapy in the context of
Histologic Grade (Gleason Score)
The histologic grade of adenocarcinoma in radical prostatectomy specimens is one of the mot powerful
predictors of patient outcome after surgery. Both the World Health Organization and the College of
American Pathology (1999 Consensus Conference) have recommended routine reporting of Gleason grades
(scores) in radical specimens.
It is recommended that both the primary and secondary Gleason patterns (grades) should be reported
along with a score (sum). There are scant data related to the presence tertiary patterns but any high
grade tumors (grade 4,5) should be noted, even if it is a minor or tertiary component.
Some authors have suggested that the quantification of the percent Gleason patterns 4/5 is of
prognostic significance, however, the role of this measure needs further study. Reproducibility and
interobserver agreement in the quantification of the percent Gleason patterns 4/5 needs to be
Prostatic adenocarcinoma is frequently multifocal in radical prostatectomy specimens. Some
pathologists only report the Gleason score of the "dominant nodule". This may be okay in the situation
of a pT2 nodule; however, many tumors in the PSA-screening era do not have a dominant nodule but are
multifocal. It is recommended that a Gleason score (grade) be based on the entire tumor in radical
Tumor size (volume) is an important prognostic factor linked to a variety of pathologic and clinical
end points such as histologic grade, TNM Stage, PSA level, outcome and response to therapy.
Additionally, definitions of clinically significant versus clinically unimportant prostate cancer
generally incorporate tumor size measurement. The percentage of carcinoma in radical prostatectomy
specimens has been shown to be an independently important prognostic factor with respect to recurrence
A variety of methods of measuring tumor size are available to the pathologist including visual
inspection of the percent of tissue involved by tumor which can be expressed in intervals such as <1%,
<5%, 5-10%, 10-20%, etc. Other methods include measuring the diameter of the largest tumor nodule
visualized microscopically, counting the number of blocks involved by tumor, grid morphometric analysis
and computer assisted image analysis. The latter approach is the most rigorous and quantitative method
but is impractical for routine surgical pathology practice. The reporting of tumor size is recommended
both by the College of American Pathologists and the Association of Directors of Anatomic and Surgical
Pathology. It is generally suggested that the light microscopic visual inspection of percent of
prostatic parenchyma involved by carcinoma be reported on radical prostatectomy specimens.
Pathologic Staging (TNM)
The current TNM Classification of Prostatic Adenocarcinoma is shown in table 3. The pathologic pT
category should be reported in radical prostatectomy specimens. There is no pathologic pT1 category. pT2
disease is organ confined with subcategories including pT2a - tumor involving one-half of one lobe or
less, pT2b - tumor involving more than one-half of one lobe but not both lobes, and pT2c - tumor
involving both lobes. pT3 disease is extraprostatic with pT3a being extraprostatic extension and pT3b
involving seminal vesicle. pT4 disease is locally aggressive with invasion of local structures such as
the urinary bladder, rectum or pelvic wall musculature.
Table 3 - 2002 TNM Classification - Prostatic Adenocarcinoma
Primary Tumor, Clinical (T)
|TX|| Primary tumor cannot be assessed|
|TO|| No evidence of primary tumor|
|T1|| Clinically unapparent tumor not palpable or visible by imaging|
| T1a Tumor incidental histologic finding in 5% or less of tissue resected|
| T1b Tumor incidental histologic finding in more than 5% of tissue resected|
| T1c Tumor identified by needle biopsy (e.g. because of elevated PSA)|
|T2|| Tumor confined within prostate*|
| T2a Tumor involves one half of one lobe or less|
| T2b Tumor involves more than one half of one lobe, but not both lobes|
| T2c Tumor involves both lobes|
|T3|| Tumor extends through the prostatic capsule**|
| T3a Extracapsular extension (unilateral or bilateral)|
| T3b Tumor invades seminal vesicle(s)|
|T4|| Tumor is fixed or invades adjacent structures other than seminal vesicles, bladder neck, external sphincter, rectum, levator muscles, and /or pelvic wall|
Primary Tumor, Pathologic (pT)
| pT2*** || Organ confined|
| pT2a Tumor involves one half of one lobe or less|
| pT2b Tumor involves more than one half of one lo be, but not both lobes|
| pT2c Tumor involves both lobes|
| pT3 || Extraprostatic extension|
| pT3a Extraprostatic extension|
| pT3b Seminal vesicle invasion|
| pT4 || Invasion of bladder, rectum|
Regional Lymph Nodes (N)
| NX || Regional lymph nodes cannot be assessed|
| NO || No regional lymph node metastasis|
| N1 || Metastasis in regional lymph node or nodes|
Distant Metastasis**** (M)
| MX || Distant metastasis cannot be assessed|
| MO || No distant metastasis|
| M1 || Distant metastasis|
| M1a Non-regional lymph node(s)|
| M1b Bone(s)|
| M1c Other site(s)|
* Tumor found in
one or both lobes by needle biopsy, but not palpable or reliably visible by imaging is classified as
** Invasion into the prostatic apex or into (but
not beyond) the prostatic capsule is not classified as T3, but as T2.
*** There is no pathologic T1 classification
**** When more than one site of metastasis is
present, the most advanced category is used. PM1c is most advanced.
The distinction between pT2 and pT3 is critical and depends on the identification of extraprostatic
extension (EPE). The descriptors of EPE are outlined in table 4.
Table 4 - Descriptors of Extraprostatic Extension (EPE)
| involvement of fat|
| involvement of perineural space in large neurovascular bundles|
|bulging tumor beyond the normal contours of the prostate gland, sometimes with desmoplastic stromal reaction|
Earlier literature emphasized tumor extending beyond the prostatic capsule, the latter representing a
condensation of fibromuscular connective tissue that blends imperceptibly into prostatic stroma. The
prostatic capsule is present to some extent along the posterior and lateral aspects of the gland but is
relatively deficient anteriorly, basally and at the apex. There has been confusion in the literature
regarding terms such as invasion to, into and through capsule along with terms such as capsular
penetration or perforation. EPE is the preferred terminology when the tumor extends beyond the normal
confines of the prostate gland.
In radical prostatectomy specimens, involvement of periprostatic fat indicates EPE. There have been
extremely rare instances of intraprostatic fat but for all practical purposes involvement of fat
indicates EPE. EPE has been subdivided into focal and established categories where focal EPE = only a
few neoplastic glands involving periprostatic fat and established EPE means more extensive involvement
often with a tongue of tumor extending well into the fat.
Tumor involving large nerves usually in the region of the neurovascular bundles, even in the absence
of fat involvement, is also considered EPE. Bulging tumor beyond the normal contour of the prostatic
edge sometimes with a desmoplastic reaction is also an indication of EPE, even in the absence of fat
involvement. Identification of EPE anteriorly and basally where fat is relatively deficient can be quite
difficult. In the absence of fat involvement, the presence of a bulging nodule, desmoplasia or
infiltration of large smooth muscle bundles of the bladder neck indicates EPE. Microscopic involvement
of the bladder neck does not indicate pT4 disease. This generally requires gross extension of tumor into
pT3b disease is defined as involvement of the muscular wall of the seminal vesicle. Care must be
taken not to equate ejaculatory duct involvement with seminal vesicle involvement. Ejaculatory ducts are
surrounded by loose fibrovascular connective tissue and lack a well developed muscular wall. Seminal
vesicle invasion requires involvement of the muscular wall and not just the soft tissue surrounding the
seminal vesicle. The latter would still indicate pT3a disease.
Prostatic carcinoma may involve seminal vesicle through a variety of routes:
- spread along ejaculatory duct
- extension directly from base of prostate into seminal vesicle
- invasion of periprostatic and periseminal vesicle soft tissue with secondary extension into the muscular wall
- rarely metastatic deposits.
Lymph nodes may be part of a radical prostatectomy procedure or may be obtained during a separate
staging procedure. Careful documentation of involvement of metastatic disease is important for
prognostication. In the PSA screening era, the rate of positive pelvic lymph nodes accompanying radical
prostatectomy specimens is usually less than 2% and routine use of frozen sections is not justified.
Sometimes frozen sections are requested prior to radical prostatectomy, usually in patients with high
serum PSAs or high Gleason scores where there is a likelihood of extraprostatic disease. In these cases,
the identification of positive lymph nodes generally results in the urologist not proceeding with the
radical prostatectomy specimen. There is a significant false positive rate in assessing pelvic lymph
nodes by frozen section. This is related to sampling and technical difficulties in cutting fatty lymph
nodes and in their interpretation.
Surgical Margin Status
The surgical margin status is considered a category 1 prognostic factor in the CAP Classification.
26-65% of men with positive margins will demonstrate PSA failure by five years. Positive margin status
also correlates with cancer specific death rates post radical prostatectomy. While a positive margin is
an adverse factor, it does not necessarily mean that the patient will progress to cancer death. A
positive margin with lack of clinical regression may be related to:
A negative margin does not necessarily indicate cure as some apparently completely excised organ confined tumors may spread by the lymph-vascular route.
- artifactual positivity created by tissue disruption at surgery or in the pathology lab
- destruction of tumor cells at the margin by mechanical factors, ischemia or granulation tissue
- lack of aggressiveness of some tumors even when at the margin.
The surgical margin status should be reported independently to pathologic stage and the categories can
be expressed as follows: EPE-, M-; EPE-, M+; EPE+, M-; EPE+, M+.
The designation EPE-, N- indicates that the tumor is organ confined and that there is no margin
positivity. The EPE-, N+ category is problematic and generally indicates that there has been some
surgical incision of the prostatic parenchyma and/or the capsule resulting in a positive margin. The
best way to be certain of this is to identify ink on carcinoma and adjacent benign glands. The apex is
the commonest location for this finding. The EPE+, N- category indicates extraprostatic extension of the
carcinoma but negative margins and the EPE+, N+ category indicates both extraprostatic extension and
The most commonly involved margin is apical followed by the lateral, posterior and bladder neck. The
impact of margin location on clinical progression is not clear. It is generally recommended that there
be some indication of the extent of margin positivity as a more extensive involvement is associated with
a higher likelihood of cancer progression after surgery. A method of quantitating this, however, is not
fully established. Some experts recommend reporting the number of positive sites (blocks) and/or the
linear extent (millimeters) of margin positivity.
The above discussion relates to category 1 and 2 prognostic factors. There are a few category 3
factors that can be derived by routine microscopic assessment of radical prostatectomy specimens. These
include perineural and lymph-vascular space invasion. Perineural invasion is very commonly seen in
radical prostatectomy specimens and need not be reported. There is some literature suggesting
involvement of large nerves by carcinoma has adverse prognostic significance (see Maru N, et al).
There is also evolving literature on the importance of lymph-vascular space invasion (LVI) in radical
prostatectomy specimens. LVI has been associated with biochemical recurrence although further studies
are required to validate this finding. In general, it is recommended that LVI be reported in radical
Based on the above discussion, five major prognostic factors - histologic type, histologic grade,
tumor size, pathologic stage and margin status - should be included in the surgical pathology report.
Additionally, the presence of lymph-vascular space invasion should probably be noted. While the style of
presenting data in a surgical pathology report has not been mandated, a synoptic approach is generally
recommended. A synoptic report allows the clinician to easily identify the cancer diagnosis and
associated prognostic factors in a tabular format. It may be more difficult for clinicians to extract
prognostic factor information from a traditional (narrative) report if the data is buried in the gross
and microscopic fields.
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