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Keywords:

  • fine needle aspiration;
  • cytology;
  • head and neck;
  • cystic lesions;
  • salivary gland;
  • pitfall

Objective:  To investigate the accuracy of fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) in the diagnosis of cystic masses of the head and neck (H&N), excluding thyroid lesions.

Methods:  A total of 198 cases, 63 of whom had consequent surgical specimens, were retrieved from the files of two university hospitals and reviewed.

Results:  FNAC correctly diagnosed 25 of 36 neoplasms with a cystic component. Five Warthin's tumours, two squamous cell carcinomas, two mucoepidermoid carcinomas and two schwannomas yielded non-representative aspirates. Four of the missed Warthin's tumours and two mucoepidermoid carcinomas which were misdiagnosed as benign cysts were aspirated by their clinician. One branchial cleft cyst was cytologically interpreted as highly suspicious for carcinoma.

Conclusions:  Disparate entities may present with similar cytological findings in the H&N region. A detailed description of differential diagnosis should be given in the cytology report in suspicious cases. Repeated aspirations from different sites of the lesion may reduce the false-negative rate.