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Open Access Highly Accessed Case Report

Challenges to diagnose metaplastic carcinoma of the breast through cytologic methods: an eight-case series

Seema Lale1, Kiyoe Kure2 and Daniel Lingamfelter3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, New York, USA

2 Department of Pathology, Woodhill Medical and Mental Health Center, New York University School of Medicine, Brooklyn, New York, USA

3 El Paso County Coroner's Office, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

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Diagnostic Pathology 2011, 6:7  doi:10.1186/1746-1596-6-7

Published: 18 January 2011

Abstract

Because metaplastic carcinoma of the breast encompasses a great variety of histopathology, diagnostic challenges abound, especially within the realm of cytology. The authors compiled and studied an eight-case series comprised of metaplastic breast carcinomas and lesions initially suspicious cytologically for metaplastic carcinoma in order to assess the degree of cytologic-histologic correlation and to identify recurring problematic themes surrounding the cytology-based diagnosis of this neoplasm.

The cytologic and histologic slides from eight cases suspicious for metaplastic breast carcinoma diagnosed by fine needle aspiration (FNA) were collected and analyzed through a seven-year retrospective search of case files at our institution. Based on cytologic characteristics, the cases were separated into three groups. Group 1 consisted of three cases presenting with poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma and squamoid components on FNA. Group 2 was composed of two cases that featured a monophasic, malignant ductal cell population on cytology, while the cytologic specimens for the third group of cases presented with a mesenchymal component with or without a malignant glandular constituent.

Cytologic-histologic correlation was present in two of three cases demonstrating a mesenchymal component, and there was 100% sensitivity in the cytologic detection of those mesenchymal elements. However, in only one of three cases was there an accurate cytologic diagnosis of metaplastic carcinoma when squamoid changes were present on FNA. Both cases demonstrating only malignant glandular elements on cytologic specimens revealed an additional component of malignant squamous differentiation upon the examination of mastectomy-derived tissue.

These results indicate that squamous-like changes identified on FNA should be interpreted with caution and that sampling error remains a problematic recurrence in cytology. Regardless, there appears to be promise concerning the accurate cytologic diagnosis of metaplastic carcinoma when the lesion is characterized by a mesenchymal component. A study implementing a larger case number is essential in determining the significance of these findings.