The diagnosis of breast carcinoma tumor invasion by fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology continues to be controversial. To assess the reliability of predicting tumor invasion by FNA, we examined the cytologic smears of 183 FNAs of benign and malignant solid epithelial lesions of the breast for which histologic follow-up was available. The study group consisted of 94 invasive carcinomas, eight pure ductal carcinomas in situ (DCIS), and 81 benign lesions (fibroadenoma, fibrocystic changes, papilloma, adenosis). Epithelial cellularity, presence of epithelial cells in dispersed fat droplets and presence of epithelium within intact fragments of fibrofatty connective tissue were tabulated. Epithelial cellularity in dispersed fat was semiquantitatively scored. The cytologic diagnosis of the epithelial cells in all cases was recorded as benign, malignant, or indeterminant for malignancy.
Findings showed that 95.5% of invasive carcinomas, 100% of DCIS, and 68.1% of benign lesions contained epithelial cells in dispersed fat; 80.8% of invasive carcinomas, 66.7% of DCIS, and 60.7% of benign lesions contained epithelial cells in intact fibrofatty connective tissue. Corrected score of epithelium within fat was 0.781 for invasive carcinoma, 0.727 for DCIS, and 0.562 for benign lesions. The difference in values for all parameters was not statistically significant between invasive carcinoma and DCIS, but reached significance between invasive carcinoma and benign lesions.
Eighteen cases (7/94 invasive carcinoma, 5/8 DCIS, 6/81 benign lesions) contained atypical epithelial cells indeterminant for malignancy, all of which had epithelial cells present in dispersed fat when dispersed fat was present on the slides, indicating that this criterion was not helpful in discriminating between a benign and malignant diagnosis.
We conclude that the presence of epithelial cells either admixed within dispersed fatty droplets or seemingly within fragments of fibrofatty connective tissue is not a reliable indicator of tumor invasion in FNA of the breast, and is frequently found in both benign and malignant breast lesions. The presence of epithelial cells in intact or dispersed fat is most likely a mechanical artifact of aspiration and/or smear preparation. Diagn. Cytopathol. 16:137–142, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.