Liver biopsy plays an important role in the clinical management of metastases and often requires workup using immunohistochemical (IHC) markers, but the approach varies among institutions.


To evaluate the utility of a morphologic pattern–based, individualized approach in the workup of hepatic metastases.


All liver biopsies with metastasis between 2015 and 2018 were identified from our institutional database and were reviewed. The morphologic pattern of the metastasis and IHC markers used in each case were recorded. The final identification of primary site of the tumor was assessed based on all the available clinicopathologic data. The academic ranking and practice pattern of the pathologist signing out the case were also recorded.


A total of 406 liver biopsies with metastasis were identified, and the cases were classified as adenocarcinoma (253 of 406; 62%), carcinoma not otherwise specified (12 of 406; 3%), neuroendocrine neoplasm (54 of 406; 13%), poorly differentiated carcinoma (43 of 406; 11%), nonepithelial tumor (24 of 406; 6%), and squamous cell carcinoma (20 of 406; 5%). The primary site was unknown in 39% (158 of 406) at the time of liver biopsy. A primary site was determined in 97% (395 of 406) of all cases, and only 3% (11 of 406) remained true carcinoma of unknown primary. The average IHC markers/case in patients with known primary was 2.6, compared with 5.9 with an initial unknown primary and 9.5 in cases of true carcinoma of unknown primary.


An individualized, case-based approach seems to be highly cost-effective and uses fewer IHC markers compared with preset panels that often comprise 10 or more IHC markers.

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Author notes

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.

Authors Zhang and Jain contributed equally