• breast cancer;
  • neuroendocrine ductal carcinoma in situ;
  • fine needle aspiration cytology;
  • nipple discharge cytology;
  • cytodiagnosis

T. Kawasaki, S. Nakamura, G. Sakamoto, T. Kondo, H. Tsunoda-Shimizu, Y. Ishii, T. Nakazawa, K. Mochizuki, T. Yamane, M. Inoue, S. Inoue and R. Katoh Neuroendocrine ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast: cytological features in 32 cases

Objective:  The purpose of this study was to clarify the cytological features of neuroendocrine ductal carcinoma in situ (NE-DCIS) of the breast.

Methods:  We analysed the cytopathological findings in 22 fine needle aspiration (FNA) smears and 17 nipple discharge smears obtained from 32 Japanese patients with NE-DCIS.

Results:  The background of the FNA smears was clear (59%), mucoid (23%), haemorrhagic (14%) or necrotic (5%). Most of the FNA smears (95%) showed high cellularity. Characteristically, NE-DCIS cells were loosely arranged in three-dimensional solid clusters or singly dispersed. Well-developed vascular cores with or without malignant cells were occasionally recognized. The tumour cells were polygonal or spindle-shaped with a fine granular, abundant cytoplasm. Nuclei with finely granular chromatin were round or oval and often eccentrically located (plasmacytoid appearance). Mitotic figures were infrequent. Nuclear grade was estimated to be low in 86%. Most nipple discharge smears had fairly low cellularity with poorly preserved cell clusters in a markedly haemorrhagic background, although two (12%) were extremely cellular with cytological characteristics similar to those of the FNA smears. Pre-operative cytological malignant diagnoses were made in 42% of FNA smears and 0% of nipple discharge smears. Immunohistochemistry for neuroendocrine markers (chromogranin A and synaptophysin) confirmed the neuroendocrine nature of this tumour in adequate cytological specimens.

Conclusions:  NE-DCIS has distinctive cytological features and can therefore be diagnosed as a neuroendocrine tumour in most FNAs and some nipple discharge smears by cytological examination employing immunohistochemical techniques. We emphasize that a breast lesion with these features may be in situ and not invasive, and also that there is a risk of under-diagnosis.