Many different types of small cell, embryonal, and poorly differentiated neoplasms originate within the central and peripheral nervous systems. Because appropriate treatment is based on a correct diagnosis, the surgical pathologist must be familiar both with basic characteristics of each of the numerous entities as well as the spectrum of morphologic features that each may display. The nosology and nomenclature of these tumors have a rich and varied history. One basic distinction is between primitive neuroectodermal tumors of the central nervous system (cPNETs) and primitive neuroectodermal tumors of the peripheral nervous system (pPNETs), which are clinicopathologically and genetically distinct. Among the cPNETs are medulloblastoma, pineoblastoma, cerebral neuroblastoma, ependymoblastoma, medulloepithelioma, primary rhabdomyosarcoma, and atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor, whereas the pPNETs comprise the more differentiated end of a spectrum of neoplasms that include skeletal and extraskeletal Ewing's sarcoma.
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