Gynecomastia: cytologic features and diagnostic pitfalls in fine needle aspirates

Acta Cytol. 2001 Nov-Dec;45(6):948-52. doi: 10.1159/000328369.


Objective: To illustrate some of the uncommon cytologic findings of gynecomastia, such as apocrine metaplasia, cellular atypia and foamy macrophages, that can be misinterpreted as evidence of malignancy.

Study design: The clinical data and fine needle aspiration (FNA) cytologic material from 100 men with the diagnosis of gynecomastia were retrospectively reviewed. The excisional biopsy slides were available for 16 cases. For comparison, FNA smears from five men with breast lesions other than gynecomastia were studied.

Results: The patients ranged in age from 23 to 91 years. Cytologic findings were as follows: cohesive sheets of cells containing 20-1,000 cells (98%); scattered, single, bipolar cells (78%); spindle cells (68%); ductal epithelial atypia (26%); apocrine metaplasia (8%); and foamy histiocytes (12%). In nine cases the atypia was marked, and in two of them the possibility of malignancy could not be ruled out. Surgical follow-up on 16 patients, including the cases with marked atypia, showed gynecomastia. In one case, gynecomastia was associated with intraductal papilloma. No correlation between the underlying etiology and atypical cytologic features of gynecomastia was identified.

Conclusion: Apocrine metaplasia and epithelial atypia are common findings in gynecomastia. Attention to the cell patterns, the presence of sheets of ductal cells and absence of atypical single cells will point to the correct diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Apocrine Glands / pathology
  • Biopsy, Needle / methods*
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Gynecomastia / complications
  • Gynecomastia / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metaplasia / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / complications
  • Papilloma, Intraductal / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies