The role of fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) in the investigation of superficial lymphadenopathy; uses and limitations of the technique
Aspirates (n = 163) from 157 patients with enlarged superficial lymph nodes were obtained over a 5-year period in a combined surgical/FNAC clinic. A definitive diagnosis was achieved in over 77% of the cases: benign 52.7%, malignant 25.1%. The diagnostic accuracy was 94.4%, sensitivity 85.4% and specificity 100%. The false-negative rate was 12.5% but decreased to 3.5% when lymphoma cases were excluded. There were 36 cases of metastatic disease, the majority of which were from a primary breast carcinoma. The main diagnostic difficulty was in distinguishing low-grade lymphoma from reactive hyperplasia. An added advantage was that aspirated material could be used in ancillary tests to help with the differential diagnosis. FNAC has a well-defined role in the investigation of superficial lymphadenopathy. Used in the proper setting it will provide a definitive diagnosis in the majority of cases, especially relating to recurrent malignancy or metastatic disease. Patients with a reactive cytological picture and no clinically suspicious symptoms could be spared unnecessary surgery and reviewed through follow up. This technique is cost-effective, of high diagnostic accuracy, and results in considerable resource savings.