Adenocarcinoma in situ, minimally invasive adenocarcinoma and invasive adenocarcinoma of lung

Dr Jeremy Jones et al.

Adenocarcinoma in situ, minimally invasive adenocarcinoma and invasive adenocarincoma of lung are relatively new classification entities which now replaces the now defunct term bronchoalveolar carcinoma (BAC).

In 2011 the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and other societies jointly revised the classification for adenocarcinoma of lung 13. The terms BAC and mucinous and non-mucinous BAC are no longer used. The new classification strategy is based on a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis of lung adenocarcinoma.

Before a general discussion of the topic it is worth highlighting some of the updated terminology and concepts, as for many who were taught the term bronchoalveolar carcinoma, some adjustment will be necessary 5.

  • adenocarcinoma in situ of lung (AIS) (≤3 cm) has a number of subtypes
    • the most common subtype is non-mucinous and rarely mucinous or mixed subtypes
    • histology pattern: no growth patterns other than lepidic and no feature of necrosis or invasion
  • minimally invasive adenocarcinoma of lung (MIA) ≤3 cm
    • describes small solitary adenocarcinomas with either pure lepidic growth or predominant lepidic growth with ≤5 mm of stromal invasion

Two invasive adenocarcinomas previous termed non-mucinous and mucinous BAC are no longer used.

AIS and MIA are an uncommon type of bronchial carcinoma which occurs most frequently among non-smokers, women and Asians. It is a subtype of adenocarcinoma, but has a significantly different presentation, treatment and prognosis. AIS and MIA represents between 2-14% of all primary pulmonary malignancies 11. There is no significant gender predilection unlike other lung cancer types which are more prevalent in men.

Risk factors

Focus of pulmonary fibrosis, e.g. tuberculosis scar, infarct, scleroderma.

Presentation is often insidious, and a large proportion (50%) of patients may be asymptomatic at the time of detection 1.  Alternatively, as these tumours can produce large quantities of mucus, patients may present with bronchorrhea.

Persistent consolidation for weeks despite appropriate antimicrobial therapy should raise the suspicion of a neoplastic process. CT or guided biopsy may be planned in such cases.

AIS: ≤3 cm, demonstrates a lepidic growth pattern, spreading along the walls of the lung without destroying the underlying architecture. In addition they are characterised by absence of stromal, vascular or pleural invasion.

MIA: ≤3 cm, describes small solitary adenocarcinomas with either pure lepidic growth or predominant lepidic growth with ≤5 mm of stromal invasion.

Three pathological subtypes are recognised 3:

  • non-mucinous
  • mucinous: goblet cell (mucus secreting), often multi-centric
  • mixed

There are three recognised radiographic patterns 1

  • single mass or nodular form (commonest): ~45 %
  • consolidative form: ~30 %
  • multinodular form: ~25 %
Plain radiograph

May show segmental or lobar consolidation with chronic unilateral airspace opacification and air bronchograms. Can also present as a pulmonary nodule, mass or a cluster of diffuse nodules 1,2. The nodular form (commonest) can be indistinguishable from another adenocarcinoma subtype or inflammatory granuloma on plain film 1.


The appearance of bronchoalveolar carcinoma on CT depends on its pattern of growth, and thus it may appear as a:

  • peripheral nodule
    • commonest appearance
    • typically solitary and well circumscribed 5
    • the nodule may be surrounded by a halo of ground glass opacity, the so called fried egg sign
    • cavitation
      • pseudocavitation (presence of bubble like lucencies) is recognised 1,5
      • overt cavitatory changes rarely occur (~7%)
      • cavitating pulmonary metastases may occur (Cheerios sign 9)
  • focal area of ground glass (early sign)
    • heterogeneous attenuation
  • region of ground glass +/- consolidation
  • hilar and mediastinal adenopathy and pleural effusion are uncommon
Nuclear medicine

18F-FDG-PET is often negative 6,7.

Surgical resection is required with a lobectomy or pneumonectomy.

Overall tumours that demonstrate only lepidic growth tend to be indolent, with high 5 year survival. Frequently, however, solid, invasive components are present and despite radical treatment, recurrence rates are high. Mucinous subtypes have worse prognosis 4, probably because of aerogenous spread to form infiltrating, multifocal, or satellite tumours 11.

The entity which was formerly known as bronchoalveolar carcinoma was first described by Malassez in 1876, as a bilateral, multinodular form of malignant lung tumour 11-12.

General imaging differential considerations are broad and its useful to consider differentials for specific patterns which include:

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Article Information

rID: 5920
System: Chest
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma
  • Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC)
  • Bronchoalveolar carcinoma
  • Bronchioloalveolar cell carcinoma
  • BAC
  • Bronchoalveolar carcinoma (BAC)
  • Adenocarcinoma in situ formally known as bronchoalveolar carcinoma

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Cases and Figures

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    Figure 1: histology - with mucin production
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    Figure 2: histology - with mucin production (zoomed)
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    Bronchoalveolar c...
    Case 1
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    Case 2
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    Case 3: plain radiograph
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    Case 3: CT
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    Bronchoalveolar c...
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    Bronchoalveolar c...
    Case 4: CT
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    Case 5
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    Case 6
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    Case 7: involving whole lung
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     Case 8
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    Case 9: micronodular form
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