Journal of Cytology
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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 195-197
Fine-needle aspiration cytology of granular cell tumor: A report of two cases

Department of Pathology, JIPMER, Pondicherry, India

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Date of Web Publication5-Sep-2013


Granular cell tumors (GCTs) are uncommon soft tissue tumors, which are difficult to diagnose merely on clinical examination. Being an effective first-line investigation, the fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) plays a significant role in its pre-operative recognition. However, as the tumor is likely to mimic certain other lesions, a cytopathologist needs to be aware of its characteristic cytomorphology. We report two cases of GCT who presented with subcutaneous swellings in the left lower back and the right-sided anterior abdominal wall for 6 and 2 months, respectively. Both the patients had a clinical diagnosis of lipoma/neurofibroma. FNAC was done in both. In the first case a cytodiagnosis of xanthogranuloma was suggested and GCT in the second. Subsequent histologic examination of both showed features of GCT. FNAC would aid in presumptive diagnosis of GCT.

Keywords: Fine-needle aspiration cytology; granular cell; preoperative diagnosis; tumor; xanthogranuloma

How to cite this article:
Toi PC, Siddaraju N, Basu D. Fine-needle aspiration cytology of granular cell tumor: A report of two cases. J Cytol 2013;30:195-7

How to cite this URL:
Toi PC, Siddaraju N, Basu D. Fine-needle aspiration cytology of granular cell tumor: A report of two cases. J Cytol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2020 Feb 20];30:195-7. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Granular cell tumors (GCT), previously referred to as 'granular cell myoblastoma' are rare mesenchymal tumors, comprising about 0.5% of all soft tissue tumors. These slow-growing, benign tumors of neural origin occur anywhere in the body are generally asymptomatic, usually solitary, although rarely multifocal. [1] The tongue is the most common site. Other sites are chest wall, upper extremities, skin and subcutaneous tissue, vulva, breast, larynx, bronchus, gastrointestinal tract, anus, bile ducts, pancreas, urinary bladder, uterus, brain, pituitary gland and soft tissues. [2]

GCT is treated by simple surgical excision, but its pre-operative diagnosis is inaccurate in most cases. Moreover, the cases that present as skin nodules or breast masses are likely to raise the suspicion of malignancy, [3],[4] stressing the need for its accurate pre-operative recognition. As a simple, inexpensive, first-line investigative modality fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) can play a major role, [5] and therefore a cytopathologist should be aware of the characteristic cytological features of this tumor. [6],[7],[8]

   Case Report Top

Case 1

A 37-year-old female presented with swelling over the left lower back for 6 months, and pain for 2 months. The swelling was firm, tender and measured 2.5 × 2.5 cm. The lesion was clinically diagnosed as a lipoma.

Case 2

A 53-year-old female presented with a subcutaneous swelling in the anterior abdominal wall, below the right costal margin for 2 months. It was firm, non - tender and measured 3 × 2 cm. A clinical differential diagnosis of neurofibroma and lipoma was considered.

In both the patients, a palpation-guided FNAC was performed. The smears were stained with May-Grünwald-Giemsa (MGG) stain and Papanicolaou method. Periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) stain was done on one of the air-dried smear of case-2. Subsequently, both the patients underwent excisional biopsy. The histological sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H and E) and PAS stains, and immunohistochemistry (IHC) performed with S-100, CD-68 and neuron specific enolase (NSE).

   Cytological Findings Top

Smears from case-1 showed large numbers of histiocytoid cells arranged in clusters, and lying singly with bland, round nuclei, uniformly distributed chromatin, and moderate-to-abundant, granular cytoplasm with indistinct cell borders and bare nuclei exhibiting minimal pleomorphism, along with a few neutrophils and lymphocytes in a blood-mixed lipoid background. The possibility of a xanthogranuloma was considered [Figure 1]a-c, and biopsy was advised. Aspirate from case-2 showed somewhat similar features [Figure 1]d and cytoplasm revealed intense PAS-positive granularity. A diagnosis of 'GCT' was given.
Figure 1: FNA smear from case-1 (a) showing clusters and scattered, singly lying cells (MGG stain, ×100), (b) cells with histiocytoid appearance, indistinct cytoplasm (MGG, ×400), (c) singly scattered cells in a lipoid background (MGG, ×400), (d) smear from case-2 showing clusters of round-to-polygonal cells with abundant granular cytoplasm (MGG, ×400)

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   Histopathological Findings Top

Histological sections showed sheets of polygonal cells exhibiting eosinophilic, granular cytoplasm, and vesicular nuclei, some of them showing prominent nucleoli, separated by intervening fibrous septae [Figure 2]. The tumor cells were intensely PAS-positive (Inset of [Figure 2]a) and IHC revealed strong immunoexpression of S-100 protein, CD68, and NSE in both the cases (Inset of [Figure 2]b-d) consistent with 'GCT'.
Figure 2: Histologic section showing sheets of granular cells separated by fibrous septae (H and E, ×200) Inset, (a) shows PAS-positive cytoplasmic granules in neoplastic cells (PAS, ×400), inset (b-d) positive expression of S-100, CD 68 and NSE respectively (IHC, x200)

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   Discussion Top

GCTs primarily affect adults with a female predilection between the second and the sixth decades. They may also occur in children. Malignant GCT is rare and it is often difficult to distinguish from benign GCT. [9] GCTs of the subcutaneous tissue are relatively uncommon. The cytological features of GCT are well-described, and it is important for cytopathologists to be aware of these features. [7] In this context, it is noteworthy that our first case was interpreted as 'xanthogranuloma' as we had no previous cytological experience of this distinct entity, while the second case was diagnosed without any dilemma. Our experience of the first case, prompted us to use the PAS stain in the second case, which provided additional clue to the diagnosis. Naresh et al.[4] reported a case of GCT clinically suspected as breast cancer which was interpreted as a histiocyte-rich benign lesion of inflammatory origin on FNAC, which is similar to our first case. Clinical features of GCT are non-specific, which were evident in our cases as well. A correct pre-operative cytologic diagnosis obviates the need for biopsy. [10]

The differential diagnosis of GCT on FNAC includes malignant GCT, alveolar soft part sarcoma (ASPS), rhabdomyoma, histiocyte-rich lesion, metastatic carcinoma, epithelioid sarcoma, and melanoma. GCT of the breast are likely to be mistaken for apocrine metaplastic cells. [2],[6],[11],[12] The characteristic cytological features described for GCT are similar to those of our cases. Cases of GCT with intranuclear inclusions and cell clusters showing thin walled intersecting capillaries have also been documented. [6],[7] As shown in our cases, both on cytology and histology, GCTs are PAS-positive, and immunohistochemically express S-100, NSE and CD68 indicating their neural origin.

Malignant GCT differs from benign GCT in that it exhibits necrosis, mitotic activity and nuclear atypia. ASPS also show cells with granular cytoplasm which are PAS-positive, with abundant cytoplasmic needle-like pink-colored, crystal and diastase-resistant granules. [12] Kim et al.[13] stressed the diagnostic value of transcription factor 3 (TFE3) immunostain for ASPS. Rhabdomyoma cells exhibit abundant eosinophilic cytoplasm, where special stains for skeletal muscle are of diagnostic assistance. Histiocytes are distinguished from GCT-cells in that they show bean-shaped nuclei. In GCT of the breast CD68 is positive, as these tumors are likely to arise from schwann cells and negative in apocrine metaplastic cells. S-100 protein is positive in GCT as they are closely associated with nerves. [9],[12] GCT cells are negative for antibodies to cytokeratins AE1, AE3, desmin, MyoD1, myogenin, HMB-45, melan-A and MART-1, which helps to exclude metastatic carcinoma, epithelioid sarcoma, ASPS, and melanoma. [2],[11]

Smith et al., [14] while reporting a case of GCT of mediastinum, where the possibility of a benign neural tumor with granular cell features was considered, stressed the importance of combining FNAC with other ancillary studies for accurate diagnosis in unusual locations.

   Conclusions Top

GCTs are rare and occur in a wide variety of sites with a wide spectrum of differential diagnoses that vary according to the site of occurrence. A cytopathologist has to be aware of their cytomorphologic features and differential diagnosis. A simple PAS stain is of great help in most cases. In difficult situations, judicious use of relevant markers on a cell block will be contributory to its final diagnosis.

   References Top

1.Rose B, Tamvakopoulos GS, Yeung E, Pollock R, Skinner J, Briggs T, et al. Granular cell tumours: A rare entity in the musculoskeletal system. Sarcoma 2009;2009:765927.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Liu Z, Mira JL, Vu H. Diagnosis of malignant granular cell tumor by fine needle aspiration cytology. A case report. Acta Cytol 2001;45:1011-21.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Rosai J. Soft tissue tumors. In: Rosai J, Editor. Rosai and Ackerman's surgical pathology. 9 th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier (India); 2009. p. 2317-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Naresh KN, Soman CS. Granular cell tumor of the mammary skin. Acta Cytol 1996;40:610-2.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Rekhi B, Gorad BD, Kakade AC, Chinoy R. Scope of FNAC in the diagnosis of soft tissue tumors - a study from a tertiary cancer referral center in India. Cytojournal 2007;4:20.  Back to cited text no. 5
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6.Mallik MK, Das DK, Francis IM, al-Abdulghani R, Pathan SK, Sheikh ZA, et al. Fine needle aspiration cytology diagnosis of a cutaneous granular cell tumor in a 7-year-old child. A casereport. Acta Cytol 2001;45:263-6.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Liu K, Madden JF, Olatidoye BA, Dodd LG. Features of benign granular cell tumor on fine needle aspiration. Acta Cytol 1999;43:552-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Bean SM, Eloubeidi MA, Eltoum IA, Cerfolio RJ, Jhala DN. Preoperative diagnosis of a mediastinal granular cell tumor by EUS-FNA: A case report and review of the literature.Cytojournal 2005;2:8.  Back to cited text no. 8
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9.Qureshi NA, Tahir M, Carmichael AR. Granular cell tumor of the soft tissues: A case report and literature review. Int Semin Surg Oncol 2006;3:21.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Hahn HJ, Iglesias J, Flenker H, Kreuzer G. Granular cell tumor in differential diagnosis of tumors of the breast. The role of fine needle aspiration cytology. Pathol Res Pract 1992;188:1091-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Hassan AM, Khamis NN, Hammam MM. Role of fine needle aspiration cytology in diagnosis of soft tissue tumors. J Am Sci 2011;7:188-99.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Shabb N, Sneige N, Fanning CV, Dekmezian R. Fine-needle aspiration cytology of alveolar soft-part sarcoma. DiagnCytopathol 1991;7:293-8.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Kim NR, Ro JY, Cho EK, Kim MJ, An J, Ha SY. Cytologic findings of alveolar soft part sarcoma presenting with pulmonary masses: A case report with review of literature. Korean J Pathol 2011;45:119-24.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Smith AR, Gilbert CF, Strausbauch P, Silverman JF. Fine needle aspiration cytology of a mediastinal granular cell tumor with histologic confirmation and ancillary studies. A case report. Acta Cytol 1998; 42:1011-6.  Back to cited text no. 14

Correspondence Address:
Pampa Ch. Toi
Department of Pathology, JIPMER, Pondicherry - 605 006
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-9371.117641

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