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Virchows Arch. 1999 Jul;435(1):43-9.

Detection of cancer cells in effusions from patients diagnosed with gynaecological malignancies. Evaluation of five epithelial markers.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo.


The detection of malignant cells in pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial fluids of cancer patients marks the presence of metastatic disease and is associated with a grave prognosis. We evaluated five epithelial markers for the detection of cancer cells in 94 fresh pleural, peritoneal and pericardial effusions. Eighty-four of the samples were regarded as adequate for analysis after evaluation of cytological smears, including 61 samples from patients known to have gynaecological neoplasms. The other 23 samples were from patients with various non-gynaecological malignancies or tumours of unknown origin. Our control cases were 10 fallopian tubes not affected by any malignancy and 12 malignant mesotheliomas. Cell blocks from all cases were stained for CA-125, BerEP4, carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), BG8 (Lewis Y blood antigen), and B72.3 (TAG-72). Fifty-one of 84 cases were diagnosed as malignant or suggestive of malignancy in cytological smears and/or cell block sections. However, staining for epithelial markers highlighted the presence of malignant cells in 7 additional cases. When membrane staining was evaluated, the sensitivity of the markers studied in detecting malignant cells was as follows: CA-125: 88%, BerEP4: 78%, CEA: 26%, BG8: 86%, B72.3: 79%. Membrane positivity for CEA, B72.3 and BerEP4 was not detected in reactive mesothelial cells. However, membranous staining in mesothelial cells was evident in 13% and 31% of cases with the use of BG8 and CA-125, respectively. Weak cytoplasmic staining for CEA was observed in mesothelial cells in 2 cases. When Ber-EP4, B72.3, and BG8 staining results in cancer cells were combined, the following sensitivity levels were observed: BG8+B72.3: 91%; BG8+Ber-EP4: 90%; B72.3+Ber-EP4: 93%; BG8+Ber-EP4+B72.3: 95%. The detection of malignant cells in effusions is facilitated by the use of immunocytochemistry using a wide panel of antibodies. BerEP4 and B72.3 appear to be the best markers when both sensitivity and specificity are considered, followed by BG8, while CEA and CA-125 have a limited role in the detection of metastases from gynaecological tumours owing to the low sensitivity of the former and the low specificity of the latter. Analysis of all staining results should be based on a thorough morphological examination.

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