Nondiagnostic fine needle aspirates of the pancreas: A root cause analysis

Hamza N Gokozan, Claire W Michael
Cancer Cytopathology 2020 June 11

BACKGROUND: Fine needle aspiration (FNA) of the pancreas is considered the primary and least invasive diagnostic method in the evaluation of pancreatic lesions. A nondiagnostic sample may trigger repeat FNA or a more invasive diagnostic procedure. The goal of this study was to identify the root causes of nondiagnostic samples.

METHODS: We performed a retrospective review of FNAs of the pancreas categorized as nondiagnostic at our institution between 2008 and 2019. Medical records and slides were reviewed to identify the features described by imaging, rapid on-site evaluation, fluid chemistry, final cytology diagnosis, and final histology. A root cause analysis was performed using the Ishikawa (or fishbone) diagram and the 5 Whys method.

RESULTS: A total of 30 cases were identified: 11 adenocarcinomas, 6 cases of pancreatitis, 4 intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms, 3 serous cystadenomas, 3 neuroendocrine tumors, 1 mucinous cystic neoplasm, 1 retention cyst, and 1 case of Brunner gland hyperplasia. The root causes identified were: man in 8 cases, machine in 1 case, method in 17 cases, and material in 18 cases. In many cases, more than 1 root cause contributed to the problem.

CONCLUSION: Material related errors contributed to the majority of nondiagnostic results and were primarily related to fibrotic cancers, chronic pancreatitis, absence of diagnostic criteria of cystic lesions, and technically challenging cases. Only 1 major interpretation error was identified. Sampling and interpretive errors contributed equally to man-related causes. For mucinous cysts, neoplastic mucin was difficult to identify in liquid-based preparations. Pathologists tended to issue a nondiagnostic categorization when epithelial cells are lacking and particularly when the nature and radiological impression of the cyst was not communicated.

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