Atypical notochordal cell tumors

Jodi M. Carter, Doris E. Wenger, Peter S. Rose, Carrie Y. Inwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


By the current WHO classification, benign notochordal cell tumor (BNCT) and chordoma comprise the entire spectrum of notochordal-derived tumors. They have defined radiologic and histologic criteria, and differ considerably in management and clinical outcome. Chordomas are malignant tumors; they show progressive, destructive growth and have the capacity for metastasis. In contrast, BNCT are benign and show limited intraosseous growth. Patients with BNCT can be managed with serial imaging or conservative excision, whereas patients with spinal/sacral chordomas typically undergo radical en bloc resection often with adjuvant therapy and significant morbidity. As such, the distinction between BNCT and chordoma is critically important. We have seen 4 unusual notochordal tumors with radiologic and/or histologic features that defy classification as either BNCT or chordoma. Cases occurred in 4 adults (53 to 83 y), and involved the lumbar spine (N=2) and sacrum (N=2). Three cases had subtle radiologic features of cortical permeation with minimal soft tissue extension. All 4 cases had the characteristic histologic features of BNCT; however, 2 cases also had focal myxoid change. Three patients were followed with serial imaging (follow-up range, 26 to 120 mo); 2 showed no disease progression and 1 had a 10-year cumulative interval growth of 3.7 mm. One patient underwent sacrectomy. The tumor was examined in toto and had the characteristic histologic features of BNCT, with the exception of minimal soft tissue extension. On the basis of these observations, we propose a provisional designation of atypical notochordal cell tumors (ANCT) be used for the subset of notochordal-derived tumors that fail to fulfill current diagnostic criteria for either BNCT or chordoma. We would argue that designating these atypical notochordal tumors as chordoma precipitates potentially overly aggressive surgical management. Patients with ANCT may be better managed by close observation and serial imaging. Additional studies with more cases and longer clinical follow-up should clarify the relationship of ANCT to BNCT and chordoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-48
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • atypical
  • benign notochordal cell tumor
  • chordoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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