Apocrine cells

November 30, 2023

Apocrine cells

Apocrine cells are large pink cells with a round nucleus and a prominent central nucleolus.  These cells look pink when examined under the microscope because the cytoplasm (body) of the cell is full of proteins that stick to eosin (a pink dye) in the hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stain. These cells normally produce a protein called androgen receptor (AR) which allows the cells to respond to a group of hormones called androgens. Pathologists perform a test called immunohistochemistry to look for androgen receptors inside cells.

Where are these cells normally found?

Most normal apocrine cells are found in the skin where they connect to form specialized sweat glands. These cells can also be found in a part of the nipple called the areola. Cells that are not normally apocrine can also become apocrine over time. Pathologists describe this as apocrine metaplasia and the most common location for apocrine metaplasia is the breast.

What types of tumours are made up of apocrine cells?

Several different types of benign (non-cancerous) skin tumours can be made up partially or entirely of apocrine cells. Some non-cancerous breast tumours can also be made up partially or entirely of these cells. Malignant (cancerous) tumours made up of these cells include apocrine carcinoma of the skin, invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast with apocrine features, and salivary duct carcinoma of the salivary glands. Like normal apocrine cells, tumours made up of these cells produce androgen receptors (AR).

About this article

Doctors wrote this article to assist you in reading and comprehending your pathology report. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions about this article or your pathology report. To get a comprehensive introduction to your pathology report, read this article.

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