Should uncertainty concerning the risk of malignancy be included in diagnostic (nongynecologic) cytopathology reports?

David Poller, Fernando Schmitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In diagnostic cytology, the known site-specific false positive rates at various anatomical sites for the risk malignancy (ROM) when a confirmed malignant diagnosis is made are comparatively well documented. ROM figures for diagnostic cytology specimens may vary according to the anatomical site of the specimen, the exact nature of the specimen received, the staining method(s) used, and the use of additional laboratory techniques including molecular profiling; furthermore, they often differ to some extent from institution to institution, between differing cytologists within the same institution, and over time. A brief literature review for a selected group of routine diagnostic cytology specimens shows a published ROM for a confirmed malignant diagnosis as follows: bile duct brushings, ~99% (range, 97%-100%); breast fine needle aspiration, 98.5% (range, 92%-100%); serous effusion fluid, 98.9% (range, 90%-100% although lower for squamous cell carcinoma, mesothelioma, and lymphoma), pulmonary endobronchial ultrasound cytology, ~99% (range, 86.6%-100%); thyroid FNA, 98% (range, 97%-99% if NIFTP tumors are excluded), salivary gland FNA, ~90%; (range 57%-100%) and lateral neck cyst FNA, ~99% (range, 95.5%-100%). Because most diagnostic cytology specimens have a small but accepted false-positive rate, this information is vitally important for the clinical management of patients and for shared patient decision making. In our view, the known false-positive rate for a given diagnostic cytology specimen could be included within the cytology report to assist in explaining the limitations of the diagnostic cytology interpretation and help facilitate the clinical decision-making process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-21
JournalCancer Cytopathology
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • cytology
  • diagnosis
  • fine-needle aspiration
  • malignancy
  • uncertainty


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