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The value of CDX2 and cytokeratins 7 and 20 expression in differentiating colorectal adenocarcinomas from extraintestinal gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas: cytokeratin 7-/20+ phenotype is more specific than CDX2 antibody

Reyhan Bayrak, Hacer Haltas* and Sibel Yenidunya

Author Affiliations

Department of Pathology, Fatih University Hospital, Ankara, Turkey

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Diagnostic Pathology 2012, 7:9  doi:10.1186/1746-1596-7-9

Published: 23 January 2012



Metastatic adenocarcinoma from an unknown primary site is a common clinical problem. Determining the cytokeratin (CK) 7/CK20 pattern of tumors is one of the most helpful procedures for this purpose since the CK7-/CK20+ pattern is typical of colorectal adenocarcinomas. CDX2, a critical nuclear transcription factor for intestinal development, is expressed in intestinal epithelium and adenocarcinomas. In the present study, we compared the sensitivity and specificity of CDX2 expression and the CK7-/CK20+ phenotype in differentiating colorectal adenocarcinomas from pancreatic and gastric adenocarcinomas.


CK7/CK20 staining pattern and CDX2 expression were evaluated in 118 cases of colorectal, 59 cases of gastric, and 32 cases of pancreatic adenocarcinomas. The sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of the CK7-/CK20+ phenotype and of CDX2 expression were analyzed.


The CK7-/CK20+ immunophenotype was expressed by 75 of 118 (64%) colorectal and 3 of 59 (5%) gastric tumors and was not observed in any pancreatic adenocarcinomas. The CK7+/CK20+ immunophenotype was expressed in 24/118 (20%) of colon, 28/59 (48%) of gastric and 7/32 (22%) of pancreatic adenocarcinomas. The CK7+/CK20- expression pattern was observed in only 2% (2 of 118) of colorectal carcinomas. CDX2 was expressed in 114 of 118 (97%) colorectal, 36 of 59 (61%) gastric, and 5 of 32(16%) pancreatic adenocarcinomas. There was no significant association between CDX2 expression and tumor differentiation in colorectal carcinomas. In gastric carcinomas, CDX2 expression was more common in intestinal type tumors than in diffuse type carcinomas. The CK7-/CK20+ phenotype showed a specificity of 96.7% in predicting colorectal adenocarcinomas, which was superior to that of CDX2 expression. CDX2 expression at both cut-off levels (> 5% and > 50%) had a higher sensitivity (96.6% and 78%) than the CK phenotype.


Both the CK7-/CK20+ phenotype and expression of the antibody CDX2 are highly specific and sensitive markers of colorectal origin. CDX2 expression should be a useful adjunct for the diagnosis of intestinal adenocarcinomas, particularly when better established markers such as CK7 and CK20 yield equivocal results. The CK7-/CK20+ phenotype is superior in its specificity and positive predictive value and might be preferred.

Virtual slides

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gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas; CK7; CK20; CDX2; immunohistochemistry