Signet ring cells in fine needle aspiration cytology of breast carcinomas: review of the cytological findings in ten cases identified by histology


Osman Zekioglu, MD, Department of Pathology, Ege University School of Medicine, Bornova, Izmir, Turkey.
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Objective:  To establish whether the presence of signet ring cells (SRCs) in histology sections of breast carcinoma cases was reflected by their presence in fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) smears, correlating to the histological type of breast carcinoma.

Methods:  We reviewed the FNAC findings of ten cases that had been diagnosed as primary breast carcinoma with SRCs on histological sections between 1998 and 2007. Slides and histological sections were obtained from the archives of Ege University Hospital.

Results:  FNA smears were reviewed for the following cytomorphological features: background, cellularity, architecture, nuclear pleomorphism and the presence of SRCs. The background was bloody in eight cases, necrotic in one, and clean in one. There was no mucinous material in any of the cases. Cellularity was prominent in five cases (hypercellular), moderate in three (cellular) and low in two (hypocellular). Loosely cohesive groups of tumour cells of varying size were observed in all cases. A plasmacytoid appearance to some of the tumour cells was seen in all cases and discohesive tumour cells were present in eight. Nuclear pleomorphism was high in six cases and moderate in four. SRCs were observed in seven of the ten cases. Two of these seven cases also had a tubular pattern and one had tumour giant cells.

Conclusions:  FNAC should be evaluated carefully regarding the presence of SRCs when cells with a plasmacytoid appearance are observed in either hyper- or hypocellular smears. The presence of single SRCs in FNACs with hypercellularity, high nuclear grade and tubular formation or tumour giant cells may be a clue in favour of ductal carcinoma. The presence of single SRCs in FNACs with hypocellularity and mild to moderate nuclear grade may be suggestive of lobular carcinoma. However, larger studies would be needed to establish the predictive value of the presence of SRCs on FNAC.