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Cancer J. 2004 Jan-Feb;10(1):33-41; discussion 15-6.

Ductoscopic cytology to detect breast cancer.

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Department of Surgery, University of Missouri-Columbia/ Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Columbia, Missouri 65212, USA.



Fiberoptic ductoscopy allows direct visualization of the breast ductal lumen, providing a targeted approach to the diagnosis of intraductal disease. The purpose of this prospective study was to determine whether (1) endoscopic evaluation of the breast could be reliably performed, and (2) ductoscopic data (intraductal distance traveled, visual observations, epithelial and foam cell quantity, cytology) predict whether a woman has breast cancer.


Ductoscopic information was collected on intraductal distance traveled, visual observations, epithelial and foam cell quantity, and cytology.


Ductoscopic samples were successfully collected in 106/108 attempts. The first six specimens collected were acellular. Of the 100 remaining ductoscopic specimens, 37 were from breasts with ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive breast cancer, 10 from breasts with precancerous lesions, 37 duct hyperplasia/papilloma, 11 histologically normal specimens, and five specimens from breasts that did not undergo subsequent surgical excision. The ability to travel intraductally > or = 10 cm was greater in women with hyperplasia and papilloma (with and without atypia) lesions. Intraductal lesions that were visually considered tumors were more often hyperplasia/papilloma and malignant than other lesions. Extrinsic duct occlusion was observed only in malignant lesions. Excluding learning curve samples, 67/100 (45% of normal, 68% of hyperplastic, 90% of precancerous, 82% of ductal carcinoma in situ, and 70% of invasive) fiberoptic ductoscopy specimens had adequate epithelial cells, and all duct cannulation attempts except two were successful. There was one false-positive cytologic result in a woman found to have a papilloma. Foam cell quantity was significantly related to epithelial cell quantity.


Fiberoptic ductoscopy is feasible in the vast majority of subjects. Fiberoptic ductoscopy is a specific but not sufficiently sensitive method to be used alone to diagnose breast cancer. The presence of highly atypical epithelial cells in specimens from breasts containing papillomas is a pitfall of this method. Caution must be exercised to avoid a false-positive diagnosis in patients with spontaneous nipple discharge.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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