Preoperative cytological and histological diagnosis of breast lesions: A critical review

Eur J Surg Oncol. 2010 Oct;36(10):934-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2010.06.014. Epub 2010 Aug 14.


Background: Non-operative pathology diagnoses constitute an essential part of the work-up of breast lesions. With fine needle aspiration (FNA) and core needle biopsy (CNB) both having unique advantages, there is an increasing acceptance of CNB. This paper aims to outline the scientific basis of this trend. Additionally, we provide an update on novel techniques that derive cytological specimens from CNB (i.e., touch imprint (TI) and core wash (CW) cytology) in an attempt to get the best of both worlds.

Methods: In addition to using the authors' experience, we performed a search of the Medline database combining the search terms "breast cancer diagnosis", "core needle biopsy", "fine needle aspiration", "touch imprint cytology", "core wash cytology" and "complications". We defined a conclusive non-operative diagnosis as "malignant" in lesions that were malignant on follow-up and "benign" in lesions that were benign on follow-up.

Results: CNB was more often conclusive than FNA in benign and malignant lesions in 4 prospective studies. Although the more rapid diagnoses by FNA result in less patient anxiety during diagnostic work-up, CNB allows for fairly reliable estimation of invasion, histological type, grade, and receptor expression. CW and TI cytology seem promising techniques with conclusiveness rates that are roughly comparable to that of FNA.

Conclusions: All new suspicious breast lesions require careful non-operative investigation by CNB. However, additional cytological assessment by FNA can still be useful as a same-day diagnosis decreases patient anxiety and facilitates surgical treatment planning. TI and CW cytology techniques are promising same-day diagnosis modalities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle / methods*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Cytodiagnosis / methods
  • Cytological Techniques
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mastectomy / methods
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Netherlands
  • Preoperative Care / methods
  • Sensitivity and Specificity