Small tumor cell nests such as micropapillary nests are histologic poor prognostic markers for adenocarcinomas of various organs, including the lung. However, for the lung, the association of micropapillary patterns with smoking is controversial, which may be because of a vague definition of micropapillary patterns. This study clarifies the implications of small tumor cell nests by introducing a new dichotomic classification based on the glandular polarity of tumor cells: pure micropapillary nests (pMPs), preserving glandular polarity, and small solid nests (SSNs), lacking polarity. We examined the clinicopathologic factors in 436 resected adenocarcinomas, and analyzed the overall survival between groups classified by either the presence or absence of pMPs and SSNs. pMP was positively associated with nonsmoking-related features such as epidermal growth factor receptor mutations and thyroid transcription factor 1 expression. By contrast, SSN was positively associated with smoking-related features such as KRAS mutations and hepatocyte nuclear factor-4a expressions. Besides, pMP and SSN were significant and independent indicators of poor prognosis in all stages. SSN was an indicator in stage I too, whereas pMP was not. Furthermore, prognoses of the group with SSN were significantly worse than those of pMP-only group. In conclusion, the present study has revealed 2 completely different patterns of small tumor cell nests in lung adenocarcinoma, the nonsmoking-related pMPs, and the smoking-related SSNs, by considering glandular polarity. MPP should include only pMPs, and SSNs should be in a solid pattern. This novel classification might boast clinical significance as a potent poor prognostic marker as well as a factor reflecting etiological and genetic characters.
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