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Pathology of Aggressive Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma (Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma)

Dr Sampurna Roy MD   




Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma (Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma) is a rare variant of sweat gland carcinoma of the digits and volar surfaces which has  the potential for highly aggressive biological behaviour.

Papillary lesions of the digits were first described in 1987.

Based mostly on histologic criteria these lesions were subtyped as:

(i)  Aggressive digital papillary adenoma.

(ii) Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma.

Subsequent follow-up has shown that it was not possible to distinguish reliably these two entities.

Neither clinical nor histologic features were indicative of biologic behavior of these tumours. 

Metastatic disease occurred equally with either Aggressive digital papillary adenoma or Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma.

The term 'adenoma' was abandoned as all papillary digital neoplasms seemed to have an aggressive behaviour despite benign histologic appearance.

Site:  Occurs exclusively on fingers, toes and adjacent skin of palms and soles.

Clinical presentation:  Presents as a solitary, painless, cystic  nodule, usually less than 2cm in diameter.

Gross features:  Tumour has been described as being tan-gray to white-pink and rubbery.

Microscopic features:

- A poorly circumscribed lesion which involves dermis and subcutis ;

- Consists of both solid and cystic components ;

- Tubulo-alveolar and ductal structures with areas of papillary projections protruding into cystic lumina ;

- Cribriform pattern may be present ; 

- Glandular structures contain eosinophilic material ; 

- Solid area is characterized by back-to-back glands lined by cuboidal or low columnar epithelium ;

- Backround stroma displays thin fibrous septa to areas of dense hyalinized collagen ;

- Mitotic figures are noted ;

- Cytologic atypia is usually not striking.

- Some cases show poor glandular differentiation, poorly defined borders, clear cut infiltrative properties, focal necrosis and cytological evidence of malignancy.

- There may be invasion of soft tissues, blood vessels and underlying bones.

Immunopositive for S100 protein, CEA and cytokeratin.


Recognition of these tumors is important because of a potential risk of local recurrence ( 40 - 50% of patients) and distant metastases (14% of patients), usually involving lymph nodes and/or lungs.

Aggressive surgical treatment consisting of  wide local excision with clear margins and close surveillance for signs of recurrence or metastasis are indicated for this rare sweat gland neoplasm.

Differential diagnosis:

May be misdiagnosed particularly for a metastasis of papillary adenocarcinoma originating in the colon, thyroid, or breast. Clinicopathological correlation is essential to rule out a possible risk of metastatic carcinoma of the skin. 

Papillary Eccrine Adenoma: The ductal structures are larger and more dilated than those in the papillary eccrine adenoma.

Further reading:

Aggressive digital papillary adenoma and adenocarcinoma. A clinicopathological study of 57 patients, with histochemical, immunopathological, and ultrastructural observations.

Cutaneous digital papillary adenocarcinoma: a clinicopathologic study of 31 cases of a rare neoplasm with new observations.

Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma of the hand: an unsuspected malignant tumour of the sweat glands.

Papillary eccrine adenoma should not be mistaken for aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma.

Aggressive Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma in a Young Female-a Rare Presentation.

Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma diagnosed by fine needle aspiration cytology.

Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma: a review.

Human papillomavirus-58 and -73-associated digital squamous cell carcinoma in a patient with aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma.

Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma: a report of two diseases and review of the literature.

Aggressive digital papillary adenocarcinoma on the palm with pulmonary metastases.

Carcinomas of sweat glands. Pathology Annual 22 (Pt 1), 1987; 88-124 .

Sweat gland carcinomas: a comprehensive review. Sem Diag Pathol.1987; 4:38-74,





Dr Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)








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