Tuberculosis of the breast. A cytomorphologic study

Acta Cytol. May-Jun 2000;44(3):292-6. doi: 10.1159/000328467.


Objective: Extrapulmonary tuberculosis occurring in the breast is rare despite the fact that 1-2 billion people worldwide suffer from tuberculosis. The aim of this study was to examine the cytomorphology of breast tuberculosis (breast TB) and to review the literature.

Study design: Old records from the Cytopathology Laboratory, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, were reviewed from January 1980 to December 1998. Cases of breast TB where a cytologic diagnosis was rendered or a histologic diagnosis with prior fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) was available were selected. These slides were reviewed for determining the cytologic findings.

Results: One hundred sixty cases of breast TB were included in the study. Six males and 154 females with a clinical suspicion of carcinoma had undergone FNA that was reported as TB. The majority of the patients (111) were in the reproductive age group, 21-40 years. Of the 160 cases, 118 (73.75%) had cytomorphology diagnostic of tuberculosis--epithelioid cell granulomas with caseous necrosis. Eleven of the remaining 42 cases were positive for acid-fast bacilli (AFB) on Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) staining, while 31 cases were confirmed to be tubercular on histology. ZN staining was done in 44 cases, and AFB were demonstrated in only 38.6% of cases.

Conclusion: Up to 73% of breast TB can be confidently diagnosed when both epithelioid cell granulomas and necrosis are present. Also, the possibility that a woman in the reproductive age group who presents with a palpable lump in the breast may have tuberculosis must be kept in mind, especially as the incidence of breast TB may increase in the future with the global spread of AIDS.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Diseases / classification
  • Breast Diseases / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tuberculosis / classification
  • Tuberculosis / pathology*