Paraganglioma of the Urinary Bladder: A Lesion That May Be Misdiagnosed as Urothelial Carcinoma in Transurethral Resection Specimens

Ming Zhou, Jonathan I. Epstein, Robert H. Young

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Paraganglioma of the urinary bladder is a rare tumor with characteristic histologic and immunohistochemical features. However, in our experience, it may be misdiagnosed as urothelial cancer because of 1) its frequent involvement of the muscularis propria; 2) morphology that may suggest urothelial cancer in transurethral resection specimens, particularly if there are artifactual changes induced by that procedure; 3) failure of pathologists to include it in their differential diagnosis when evaluating a bladder tumor; and 4) only a minority of the cases are associated with symptoms that might prompt consideration of the diagnosis. Distinction between paraganglioma and urothelial cancer is important because of likely different therapeutic options. In this report, we describe our experience with the histopathology of paragangliomas of the urinary bladder with emphasis on the histologic features that have led to their being misdiagnosed as conventional urothelial cancer and, most importantly, those that will help pathologists recognize this rare tumor of the bladder. Fifteen cases of paraganglioma of the urinary bladder were studied, 11 of them consult cases. They affected patients (8 male, 7 female) with a mean age of 49.5 years; only two had symptoms suggestive of the diagnosis, including hypertension during cystoscopy and episodic headache. Three consult cases were submitted with a diagnosis of "transitional cell carcinoma" and 4 with a diagnosis only of "bladder tumor." Histologically, "zellballen" and diffuse patterns were present in 12 (80%) and 3 (20%) of the cases. A delicate fibrovascular stroma was obvious in 14 (93%) cases. Other patterns included irregular nests and pseudorosette formation. Tumor necrosis, significant cautery artifact, and muscularis propria invasion were present in 1 (7%), 3 (20%) cases, and 10 (67%) cases, respectively. All 15 tumors were composed of large polygonal cells with abundant granular cytoplasm. Focal clear cells were present in 3 (20%). The nuclei were mostly uniform, although occasional pleomorphic nuclei were seen in 6 (40%) cases, and 2 (13%) had frequent pleomorphic nuclei. Mitoses were rare overall, and no abnormal mitotic figures were found. The major histologic features that led to misdiagnosis included a diffuse growth pattern, focal clear cells, necrosis, and muscularis propria invasion, with significant cautery artifact compounding the diagnostic problems. Immunohistochemically, 2 of 2 tumors were positive for neuron-specific enolase, 9 of 10 tumors for chromogranin, and 2 of 3 tumors for synaptophysin; 3 of 3 tumors were negative for cytokeratin and 1 of 1 tumor negative for HMB-45. Paraganglioma of the urinary bladder may be misdiagnosed as urothelial cancer, but a careful search for the characteristic histologic features and, if necessary, supportive immunohistochemical studies, should lead to a correct diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-100
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004


  • Paraganglioma
  • Urinary bladder
  • Urothelial carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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