Replace fine needle aspiration cytology with automated core biopsy in the triple assessment of breast cancer

Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2001 Mar;83(2):110-2.


All patients presenting with a symptomatic breast lump are assessed by means of triple assessment (clinical examination, radiology in the form of mammography and cytology by means of a fine needle aspiration) performed by the clinician in the rapid access breast clinic at the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, UK. In our initial experience, it was found that a significant number of patients were returning to clinic for the results of the triple assessment to find that the cytology was not conclusive and hence needed a core biopsy, thus delaying diagnosis and definitive treatment. Therefore, a prospective study was carried out over a 6-month period, where all patients presenting with a symptomatic lump with a clinical or radiological suspicion of breast cancer had, in addition to the standard triple assessment, an automated core biopsy, thus giving rise to the quadruple assessment of the breast lump. A total of 52 patients with a clinical or radiological suspicion of breast cancer were included over this 6-month period. Of these 52 patients, 31 had a definitive diagnosis of breast cancer on fine needle aspiration (sensitivity 60%) compared with 50 of the 52 patients on core biopsy (sensitivity 96%). When radiology was diagnostic of breast cancer (R 5), the sensitivity of cytology was 61% compared with 97% with core biopsy. However, when radiology was not diagnostic of cancer (R 1-4), the sensitivity of cytology fell to 53% while the sensitivity of core biopsy remained high at 95%. The overall cellularity rate for cytology was 96%, which exceeds the BASO requirement for fine needle aspiration cytology. From these results, we conclude that automated core biopsy has a superior diagnostic power when compared with fine needle aspiration cytology and hence should replace fine needle aspiration cytology in the assessment of symptomatic breast lumps.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy / methods*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Breast / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography
  • Observer Variation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity