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Patholog Res Int. 2011;2011:547580. doi: 10.4061/2011/547580. Epub 2011 May 19.

Fine needle aspiration cytology of the breast: the nonmalignant categories.

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Department of Anatomical and Cellular Pathology, Prince of Wales Hospital, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong.


Currently, accurate diagnosis of breast lesions depends on a triple assessment approach comprising clinical, imaging and pathologic examinations. Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) is widely adopted for the pathologic assessment because of its accurracy and ease of use. While much has been written about the atypical and maliganant categories of FNAC diagnosis, little covers the non-malignanat category which represents a sheer number in all FNAC cases. Moreover, any false-negative diagnosis of the non-malignant cases may lead to missed diagnosis of cancer. This paper aims to discuss the issues of smear adequacy, the cytologic features of benign breast lesions and the dilemma of a false-negative aspirate. Much has been suggested about the smear adequacy criterion, including quantifying epithelial clusters, whereas others advocate basing adequacy on qualitative quantum of using noncellular features of FNAC. Various benign lesions could be easily diagnosed at FNAC; however, they have cytologic features overlapped with malignant lesions. False negativity of FNAC does occur; this could be caused by either "true" false-negative cases attributed to suboptimal sampling technique, poor localization of the mass or nonpalpable lesions or "false" false-negative cases due to interpretational errors. Though false-positive cases are less commonly found, they will also be discussed briefly.

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