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Cancer. 1997 Jun 25;81(3):139-43.

Clinicopathologic correlation of the unsatisfactory Papanicolaou smear.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Kentucky Medical Center, Lexington 40536-0084, USA.



The 1991 Bethesda System for cervical/vaginal cytology reporting defined adequacy criteria for the unsatisfactory designation. Most laboratories have implemented these criteria, but clinical implications have not been established.


Researchers at two university hospitals retrieved by computer search all unsatisfactory Papanicolaou (Pap) smears taken between January 1994 and July 1995. Of 71,872 total Pap smears, 208 (0.3%) were unsatisfactory (corresponding atypical rate of 9% and a dysplasia/carcinoma rate of 6.5%). Time interval to follow-up and clinicopathologic outcome were determined.


Approximately 26% of unsatisfactory Pap smears were from patients with a history of epithelial abnormalities. The majority (129 of 208 specimens; 62%) of follow-up Pap smears or biopsies occurred within 6 months, 5.7% within 6-12 months, and 1.4% in 12-18 months. Approximately 31% had no follow-up. The first repeat Pap smear or histologic specimen in 144 patients with follow-up was negative in 107 (74%), unsatisfactory in 6 (4%), atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance in 15 (10%), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) in 13 (9%), and malignant in 3 (2%). Nonmalignant conditions contributing to the unsatisfactory smears on histologic specimens (12%) included cervicitis, endometritis, endometrial hyperplasia, and polyps. Progressive abnormalities after the first repeat specimen were noted in 7 patients (5%). A total of 23 of 144 initial unsatisfactory specimens (16% )were found to be from patients diagnosed with SIL or malignancy when all follow-up specimens were analyzed.


The majority of patients with unsatisfactory Pap smears had follow-up studies within 6 months. A significant number (16%) of those with follow-up had eventual diagnoses of SIL or neoplasia. Benign pathologic conditions also contributed to unsatisfactory smears. This patient subset was more likely to have a history of abnormalities, confirming the importance of peer/hierarchical review of unsatisfactory smears.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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