Non-Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer with Variant Histology: Biological Features and Clinical Implications

Francesca Sanguedolce, Beppe Calò, Vito Mancini, Magda Zanelli, Andrea Palicelli, Maurizio Zizzo, Stefano Ascani, Giuseppe Carrieri, Luigi Cormio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: The most common bladder cancer (BC) histotype is pure urothelial carcinoma (UC), which may undergo divergent differentiation in some cases. Variant histology (VH) presents along variable morphologies, either single or combined between them or with pure UC. From a clinical standpoint, the vast majority of BC is diagnosed at non-invasive or minimally invasive stages, namely as non-muscle invasive BC (NMIBC). There is a wide range of therapeutic options for patients with NMIBC, according to their clinical and pathological features. However, current risk stratification models do not show optimal effectiveness. Evidence from the literature suggests that VH has peculiar biological features, and may be associated with poorer survival outcomes compared to pure UC. Summary: In order to describe the biological features and prognostic/predictive role of VH in NMIBC, and to discuss current treatment options, we performed a systematic literature search through multiple databases (PubMed/Medline, Google Scholar) for relevant articles according to the following terms, single and/or in combination: "non-muscle invasive bladder cancer,""variant histology,""micropapillary variant,""glandular differentiation,""squamous differentiation,""nested variant,""plasmacytoid variant,"and "sarcomatoid variant."We extracted 99 studies including original articles, reviews, and systematic reviews, and subsequently analyzed data from 16 studies reporting on the outcome of NMIBC with VH. We found that the relative rarity of these forms as well as the heterogeneity in study populations and therapeutic protocols results in conflicting findings overall. Key Messages: The presence of VH should be taken into account when counseling a patient with NMIBC, since it may upgrade the disease to high-risk tumor and thus warrant a more aggressive treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-358
Number of pages14
JournalOncology (Switzerland)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Micropapillary
  • Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer
  • Pathology
  • Risk stratification
  • Variant histology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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