Cytologic patterns of cervical adenocarcinomas with emphasis on factors associated with underdiagnosis

New cervical cancers continue to be diagnosed despite the success of Papanicolaou (Pap) tests. In an effort to identify pitfalls that limit the diagnosis of adenocarcinoma, the authors reviewed the cytologic characteristics of endocervical adenocarcinomas in their patient population. 

Liquid-based cytology slides from 45 women who had concurrent, histologically confirmed cervical adenocarcinomas were reviewed retrospectively and semiquantitatively for 25 key cytologic traits. The original sign-out diagnosis, available clinical findings, and high-risk human papillomavirus (HR HPV) results also were noted. 

Abundant tumor cellularity, nuclear size from 3 to 6 times normal, abundant 3-dimensional tumor cell groups, round cell shape, and cytoplasmic neutrophils characterized the 23 cases that were identified correctly as adenocarcinomas. Key reasons for undercalls included low tumor cellularity and low-grade columnar morphology; these also tended to correlate with low-grade or unusual adenocarcinoma variants on histology. Overall, 73% of adenocarcinomas had a concurrent positive HR HPV test. 

Most endocervical adenocarcinomas can be diagnosed accurately in cases with classical features, but some cases continue to be problematic when evaluated based on cytologic features alone. Reflex HPV testing may help increase Pap test sensitivity for challenging cases that have atypical glandular cells of undetermined significance. Occasional cases with negative HR HPV test results remain of concern.