Bladder & ureters
Other carcinomas
Small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma

Topic Completed: 1 December 2014

Revised: 27 June 2019

Copyright: 2003-2019,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Bladder [title] small cell carcinoma

Nat Pernick, M.D.
Page views in 2019: 2,738
Page views in 2020 to date: 765
Cite this page: Pernick N. Small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma. website. Accessed April 3rd, 2020.
Definition / general
  • Rare bladder tumor resembling counterparts in lung and elsewhere
  • A type of poorly differentiated carcinoma
  • A morphologic diagnosis - neuroendocrine differentiation is not required
  • Also called poorly differentiated small cell carcinoma
  • Rare, 0.5 to 1.0% of all bladder malignancies
  • No age, sex or clinical differences from usual type urothelial carcinoma
Clinical features
  • Pure or with urothelial carcinoma or other carcinomas (diagnose as small cell if any appreciable component, because prognosis is affected by presence of small cell component)
  • Occasionally associated with hypercalcemia and ectopic ACTH production
  • Most cases are advanced at diagnosis; 65% have metastases at or soon after diagnosis
  • Very aggressive with rapid development of metastases to regional nodes, liver, bones and peritoneal cavity
  • Median survival 11 months in recent study (Cancer 2011;117:5325); presence of distant metastases may be most important prognostic factor
  • 5 year survival of 8-16% (Cancer 2004;101:957)
  • Rarely co-exists with tumor cells exhibiting skeletal muscle differentiation (Am J Surg Pathol 2000;24:223)
Case reports
  • Radical cystectomy unless metastatic disease is present - then need systemic therapy (Cancer 2005;103:1172)
  • High response rate to chemotherapy (similar to that used for lung tumors), but overall prognosis is still poor (BJU Int 2009;103:747)
Gross description
  • Usually large, polypoid mass anywhere in bladder
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Tumors with any appreciable small cell component should be classified as small cell carcinoma
  • Resembles small cell carcinoma of lung
  • Loosely cohesive sheets or nests of small to intermediate sized cells with minimal cytoplasm, hyperchromatic nuclei, stippled or coarsely granular chromatin, indistinct nucleoli and no nuclear overlapping
  • Mitotic activity and necrosis are common
  • Often co-exists with other forms of in situ or invasive carcinoma
Microscopic (histologic) images

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(H and E) staining of the biopsy specimen

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Small cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder

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Cytology description
  • Numerous tumor cells in loose clusters, cells are larger than lymphocytes, have scant cytoplasm, eccentric nuclei with evenly dispersed but coarse chromatin, indistinct nucleoli
Positive stains
Electron microscopy images
  • Few dense core granules
Differential diagnosis
  • High grade urothelial carcinoma: by definition, should lack any appreciable small cell component; p63+, synaptophysin- (Appl Immunohistochem Mol Morphol 2011;19:395)
  • Lymphoma: tumor cells are smaller, positive for CD45, B or T cell markers
  • Metastatic small cell carcinoma: usually no associated urothelial carcinoma, need clinical information
Additional references
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