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Diagn Cytopathol. 2006 Apr;34(4):284-8.

Distinguishing adenoid cystic carcinoma from cylindromatous adenomas in salivary fine-needle aspirates: the cytologic clues and their ultrastructural basis.

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Department of Pathology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA.


The utilization of fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy in salivary tumors is hindered by the reluctance of many cytopathologists to report adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) because its cylindromatous stroma is observed occasionally in pleomorphic adenoma (PA) and basal cell adenoma (BA), and a diagnosis of ACC results in radical surgery. The aim of this study is to identify dependable features to distinguish the look-alike entities and illustrate their ultrastructural base. We compared 20 cases of ACC to 15 cases of cylindromatous PA and 9 cases of BA. All were direct smears stained with Diff-Quik, hematoxylin and eosin, Papanicolaou, or Ultrafast Papanicolaou (UFP) stain. In addition to the presence of cylindromatous pattern, the amount of cytoplasm in the neoplastic cells and nuclear features were compared. Tissue was dissected from paraffin blocks and processed for electron microscopy in selected cases. The difference in nuclear features can be distinguished in UFP-stained smears and electron microscopy. The nuclei of ACCs were heterochromatic with coarse chromatin and irregular nucleoli, whereas the nuclei of PAs were euchromatic with fine chromatin and small compact nucleoli. The nuclei of BAs were hyperchromatic but finely textured. The cytoplasm of PAs was detectable with every stain at 40x objective, but the cytoplasm of BAs required UFP stain and 100x objective to be detected. The cytoplasm of majority of neoplastic cells of ACCs are invisible, because the thin rim of cytoplasm measured <1 microm ultrastructurally, well beyond the resolution of a light microscope. Rare cohesive fragment of epithelial cells in ACC have scanty blue cytoplasm in UFP stain and can be recognized as ductal cells. In conclusion, in our analysis of salivary tumors with a cylindromatous pattern, the seemingly naked nuclei of neoplastic cells with their coarse nuclear chromatin and irregular nucleoli, as revealed by the UFP stain, reliably distinguished ACC from cylindromatous adenomas.

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