Biopsies of hepatocellular carcinoma with no reticulin loss: an important diagnostic pitfall

Saba Yasir, Zongming Eric Chen, Samar Said, Tsung Teh Wu, Michael Torbenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reticulin stain is a critical diagnostic aide used to differentiate benign hepatocellular proliferations from well differentiated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Rarely, however, hepatocellular carcinomas do not show definitive loss of reticulin in liver biopsy specimens. To study this group of tumors, 11 HCC with no reticulin loss in 10 patients were collected and studied. Analysis of demographics showed a typical enrichment for men with a typical age for HCC presentation of 69 ± 7 years for adults. The background livers showed advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis in 6 of 6 cases with available information. The tumors were all well differentiated. Cytological atypia was mild and consisted of very mild nuclear atypia (8 cases), mild increase in N:C ratio (3 cases), and pseudorosette formation (4 cases). The cytological/architectural atypia was insufficient in isolation to diagnose HCC. Additional studies, however, showed an increased Ki-67 proliferative rate (N = 10/10 stained cases). The Ki-67 proliferative rate was estimated to be between 5 and 10% in all tested cases and was clearly increased from adjacent liver at low power. Glypican 3 positivity (4 tumors) and alpha fetoprotein (AFP) (1/8 stained cases) positivity also helped make the diagnosis of HCC. Morphologically, the HCC had conventional morphology with five showing steatosis/steatohepatitic features and one showing intratumoral fibrosis. A control group of macroregenerative/dysplastic nodules showed no increase in Ki-67 proliferation and no staining for glypican 3. These findings highlight an important diagnostic pitfall: rare HCC show no reticulin loss on biopsy. In these challenging cases, additional findings are useful to make a diagnosis of HCC: increased Ki-67 and positive staining for aberrant expression of proteins such as glypican 3 or AFP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Pathology
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • AFP
  • Beta-catenin
  • Glypican 3
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Ki-67
  • Reticulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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