Langerhans' Cell Sarcoma (LCS)
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
A female patient first presented at age 42 with a 1.7 cm ulcerated, raised nodular lesion on the right
knee. The process was diagnosed on biopsy as "Histiocytosis X". There was a high mitotic rate (30% on
MIB-1) but no atypical mitoses. A year later, she developed a raised nodule on the cheek, 1.3 cm that
proved to be the same process. Tumor necrosis was more obvious and the MIB – 1 count was 50%. Rare
atypical mitoses were encountered. The diagnosis was again "Histiocytosis X" and no immediate further
treatment was given. Over the next few years, she developed additional lesions in small and large bowel
and was treated with surgery and chemotherapy. She died, 8 years after presentation, with progressive
tumor that involved skin, soft tissue, thyroid, liver, lung, bone, and brain, including the posterior
The patient requested that her tumor be used for study and teaching. Tumor was harvested 5 days after
death. I am privileged to honor her wish.
H&E x 20. Liver. Diffuse proliferation of cells that have a "histiocytic" appearance
H&E x 40. Liver. The nuclear morphology holds a clue. The nucleus is more than coffee-bean shaped or grooved but displays a complex folded appearance.
H&E x 40. Liver. There is variation in nuclear size, pleomorphism, and a high mitotic rate that includes atypical mitoses.
Leukocyte Common Antigen. Liver. There is little to no staining of the histiocytic population.
Vimentin. Liver. All cells stain strongly.
CD163. Liver. Interspersed macrophages stain strongly but cells with the signature nucleus are unstained.
S100. Liver. There is uneven cytoplasmic staining but little nuclear staining.
Ki-67. Liver. The very high proliferative rate is highlighted, including atypical forms.
CDla. Liver. The staining is universal. The quality of the membrane stain in this example is compromised by delayed fixation.
Langerin. Liver. Many of the cells in this field, but not all, stain for the presence of Langerin.
H&E x 10. Lymph node. The node is largely replaced with only residual follicles but the sinus pattern is not evident on H&E.
H&E x 40. Lymph node. Sinuses are filled with the Langerhans type cells that have cytologic pleomorphism and evident mitoses.
S100. Lymph node. The pattern of staining highlights the sinus component and paracortical spill-over.
CDla. Lymph node. The sharp membrane quality of the staining is evident.
Langerin. Lymph node. The lesional cells are universally positive.
Langerhans' cell sarcoma (LCS). Review of the prior lesions are also LCS.
Langerhans' cell sarcoma (LCS) is a high-grade neoplasm that has overtly malignant cytologic features
in most instances, and the Langerhans' cell phenotype, S100+/CDla+/langerin+ including the
ultrastructural Birbeck granule. The tumor develops de novo and is not a consequence of recurrent
Langerhans' cell histiocytosis (LCH). 
Clinical Findings & Biological Behavior
Langerhans' cell sarcoma is generally an adult disease, the age range being 8-81 years with an
unconfirmed mention of a congenital case. The mean age is 44 years when 6 unpublished cases from my
files are included with a median of 46 years and unlike prior smaller series that suggested a female
predominance, the M:F ratio is 1:1. The most frequent sites of presentation are ranked as skin, soft
tissue, lymph node, lung, tonsil, bone, and spleen and the usual clinical presentation is that of a mass
The clinical course is aggressive with limited response to chemotherapy and half
of the published patients have died of progressive disease. 
Histologic & Immunophenotype Findings
The illustrated case is prototypical though not as anaplastic as some examples. The tumor is commonly
first recognized as being malignant or high-grade and only of Langerhans' cell type when the phenotypic
markers are revealed. The lesional cells can be oval, 'epithelioid', or slightly spindled. When lymph
nodes are involved, the infiltrate is largely confined to the sinuses, although this pattern may be
obscured if the infiltrate is advanced. A morphologic clue to the diagnosis is the large nuclear size
that includes giant forms and the extensive and very complex nuclear folding – the term "grooved" does
not do justice to the complexity. Interspersed cells can appear more monocytoid with a nuclear pattern
that resembles a paper folded over from the corners. Mitoses can be common and large, atypical, or
bizarre forms can occur. The MIB-1 count in this instance and others was over 50% of all the large
cells. The phenotype of the cells is classical for the Langerhans' cell; Leukocyte Common Antigen- (or
trace only), vimentin +, S100+ nuclear and cytoplasmic, CDla+ sharp membrane pattern and langerin +. In
contrast to Langerhans' cell histiocytosis (LCH), the staining of LCS may be less uniform, more patchy,
and inconsistent. In the current autopsy example, langerin was present on less than 20% of cells overall
but more widespread in earlier lesions. Birbeck granules have generally (but not always) 
been found on ultrastructural examination. A loss of CDla and/or langerin has been seen on late
recurrences. CD14, CD68, and CD163 highlight a high content of intra-tumoral macrophages. Giant cells
can be of two types, tumoral, that bear grooved, folded nuclei like those of the LCS cells and also have
a small amount of patchy Langerhans' cell-type staining, and macrophage or osteoclast type with high
cytoplasmic CD68. There has been a report of CD56 expression in LCS with the suggestion that it marks a
more refractory population of cases.  The current example was not positive, nor were the
five other cases on file. CD30 may be positive and a source of consternation because it mimics the sinus
growth pattern of someanaplastic large cell lymphomas.
Langerhans' cell sarcoma can, at presentation and depending on the site, be taken for a broad
differential that includes undifferentiated carcinomas, large cell lymphomas, metastatic melanoma, and
sarcomas. The tumor class is cytokeratin -,vimentin +, and LCA is
generally absent to trivial. The demonstration of Langerhans' cell affiliation by virtue of the nuclear
complexity, S100+, CDla+, langerin + with or without Birbeck granules is convincing  and
serves to exclude most other hematopoietic or soft-tissue candidates. The differential diagnosis, once
the phenotype is established, revolves around three possible confounders; Langerhans' cell histiocytosis,
hyperplastic collections of Langerhans' cells and other neoplastic conditions that can express CDla.
"Indeterminate cell histiocytosis" will also be briefly discussed. Most instances of LCH present with
skin/bone/soft tissue and/or lymph node involvement, singly or in combination. Is there a clear and
unequivocal separation between LCH and LCS? For the most part the answer is affirmative based on the
histology. LCH has a very bland nuclear morphology without nuclear pleomorphism (though giant cells may
be a large component) and devoid of atypical mitoses. The MIB-1 fraction in the CD1a+ LCH cells,
however, can be as high as 30% in instances. Systemic disease in childhood, especially under age 2 years
still carries a substantial mortality (20%). The histopathology, cytology, and phenotype of these fatal
systemic lesions are no different from those of localized LCH, and even at autopsy, disseminated LCH
lacks the high-grade nuclear features of Langerhans' cell sarcoma.
Are there transitions from LCH to sarcoma?
The literature has only very rare anecdotal instances that appear to be well documented and in which
the original lesion was unequivocally LCH, followed by "recurrences" that were anaplastic ("progression
In at least one case reviewed here it was clear that the high degree of
pleomorphism and high local turnover in the original, labeled "LCH" had been under-appreciated. In this
case, the same was true; review of the original lesions revealed a high-grade tumor from the outset.
Is there a group of cases, especially in adults, in which it is hard to tell if the presenting lesion
is likely to behave as sarcoma? Since pleomorphism and anaplasia may be of varying degrees and in the
eye of the beholder, there are rare adult patients who have lesions that fail the pleomorphism/anaplasia
criterion for the diagnosis of Langerhans' cell sarcoma, but in whom the local cell turnover, judged by
MIB-1 content, is over 50%. Clinical follow-up in this small group of patients is not yet clear-cut.
Langerhans' Cell Hyperplasia
Occasionally sheets of Langerhans' cells can be encountered within other lesions, mostly neoplastic,
such as nodal leukemias, lymphomas, soft tissue sarcomas, thymus, thyroid, or non-Langerhans' cell
histiocytic lesions like Rosai-Dorfman disease. The biological outcome of these Langerhans cell
aggregates is determined solely by the lesions in which they appear. There are no reports of Langerhans'
cell histiocytosis at any other sites in any of these patients. Christie et al demonstrated that in some
of these lesions the proliferation, unlike LCH, is not clonal and they suggested that these Langerhans'
cell aggregates occurring within other neoplasms are reactive "hyperplastic" foci rather than Langerhans'
cell histiocytosis and certainly not sarcomatous.  Florid dendritic cell responses to other
neoplastic lesions, predominantly in the skin and soft tissues, can mimic LCH, rarely LCS. 
Langerin is absent from the reactive CD1a+ population.
Other Cdla-expressing Lesions
There are other neoplastic conditions that can express CDla and hence confound with Langerhans' cell
sarcoma. Myelomonocytic leukemias and on occasion, myelodysplastic syndromes can give rise to skin, soft
tissue, or organ infiltrates that are more differentiated than their marrow or blood counterparts. The
maturation/differentiation may be in the direction of macrophage or dendritic cells and some express
CDla. The lesion has been mistaken for LCH, even though the cells are more immature and lack the nuclear
folding of the LCH cell. Mitoses, blastic appearance, and high proliferative index in this situation are
also expected, making confusion with LCS possible. It is the panel combination of CDla, langerin, and
S100 positivity that make the definitive diagnosis of Langerhans' cell lesions. Acute myeloid leukemia
would variably express other antigens such as CD15, CD33, CD43, CD68, CD117, or
myeloperoxidase.  A subset of T-lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (cortical T-cell) is CD1a+
and would express other T-cell antigens and TdT. Uterine PEcomas (but not epithelioid leiomyomas) have
been noted to express CDla, but the context is different.  Here too, langerin may be
required for the absolute differential.
Indeterminate Cell Histiocytosis and Sarcoma
"Indeterminate cell lesions" are a mixed group, originally defined as being Langerhans' cell-like,
expressing CDla but without Birbeck granules. There are many reasons for the failure to find Birbeck
granules in a given lesion, and sampling variation is an important one. Historically, therefore, the
diagnostic "entity" is suspect. The absence of langerin staining is to be expected, and has recently
been documented.  Since the Langerhans' cell markers, CDla, langerin and the Birbeck granule
are more variable in LCS than in LCH or even epidermal Langerhans' cells, and well documented the case
under discussion, it is not unexpected that some instances will fail to express langerin or to show
ultrastructural Birbeck granules and in some cases these markers that were originally present have been
lost on the later recurrences. There seems to be little merit to the diagnosis of "Indeterminate cell"
lesions including the term, "indeterminate cell sarcoma"  unless their biological behavior
can be shown to be quite different from LCH or LCS, however, the current WHO classification includes this
category in "other rare dendritic cell tumours". 
By virtue of their cytologic detail, the complex folded nuclei, high-grade neoplastic features and
almost unique phenotypic panel, S100+ CDla+ langerin+, Langerhans cell sarcoma should not be
misdiagnosed. Distinction from LCH, especially in adults, is usually obvious by the above criteria with
only few exceptions. Half of the reported cases were lethal.
Take Home Points
- The differential diagnosis of large cell tumors
is broad and includes undifferentiated carcinoma, large cell lymphoma, metastatic melanoma, and
- Large cell tumors often represent an aggressive
manifestation of more well-differentiated neoplasms
- Attention to nuclear and cytoplasmic morphology
can facilitate the diagnosis and choice of an immunologic panel
- Phenotypic markers are useful in defining the
cell of origin but are not unique and must be used in the context of a panel
- Ultrastructural examination can still be
informative in some tumors even though phenotypic markers may have superseded the utility.
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