Cytology Case Study: Little Gland, Big Disease

A 59 year old female initially presented with DCIS, treated by mastectomy and 5 years of adjuvant tamoxifen at another institution. 4 years later, she presented to another hospital with an adrenal mass, uterine fibroids, and an ovarian cyst, where a biopsy and right-sided adrenalectomy confirmed a 10.5 centimeter adrenocortical neoplasm. Margins were close, but negative at <0.1 cm. Microscopically there were areas of necrosis, high nuclear grade, a diffuse growth pattern, and clear cells representing less than 25% of the tumor. A malignancy was favored, but lack of metastasis could not confirm the diagnosis. She presented to the cancer center with stage II adrenal cancer, T2N0M0 and mitotane-induced adrenal insufficiency. Multiple hepatic and pulmonary metastases were subsequently identified and treated with extensive surgery, including a VATS wedge resection, right nephrectomy, hepatic mobilization, lysis of adhesions, dissection of the adrenal vein and vena cava with repair, and resection of an ileal mass.

Palliative radiation therapy targeted the remaining lung nodules, and six cycles of chemotherapy were administered. A CT scan-guided fine need aspiration biopsy was obtained of a 4 centimeter retroperitoneal mass that was suspicious for recurrence on imaging, which cytopathology then confirmed. Taking into consideration the history, my additional differentials included renal cell carcinoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, and plasmacytoma, with metastatic breast cancer as the least likely differential.

Images 1-2. Retroperitoneal mass, right side, FNA-DQ stained smears.
Images 3-4. Retroperitoneal mass, right side, FNA-Pap stained smears.
Images 5-6, Retroperitoneal mass, right side, FNA-H&E cell block sections.

Palliative radiation therapy was then administered to the retroperitoneal and psoas masses, and microwave ablation targeted the segment 3 and segment 6 liver lesions, reducing pain and stabilizing growth, respectively. However, disease continued to slowly progress, so the oncology team sent the retroperitoneal metastasis tissue for molecular testing to assess for potential next lines of therapy. Testing revealed a variant of undetermined significance in MSH6, indeterminate tumor mutational burden, stable MSI, and negative for PDL1. When the case was brought to tumor board, the team recommended ongoing surveillance and palliative therapy (when needed) given the patient’s slowly progressing disease. Often thought of as a rare disease, I’ve examined a fair share of primary and metastatic adrenocortical carcinomas through working at a cancer center. These tiny triangular glands that sit on top of the kidneys have SO much power. Producing and regulating cortisol, aldosterone, and androgenic hormones, the adrenal cortex is an active outer layer. Whether hormonal or neoplastic, it truly is fascinating how a tiny gland could wreak so much large-scale havoc on the human body.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

Mye-Lo-Mye: Cytology Case Study

I quickly transitioned from from learning at Jefferson to teaching at Jefferson less than 6 months after I graduated from the Cytotechnology program. Assuming this new role of teaching future cytotechnologists was a refreshing twist after continuously learning at work. I stood at the podium as an alumna in my previous classroom with a breadth of fresh material to work with, appreciate, and share. At the beginning of each lecture, I would check in on my students, ask them how their other classes were going, ask if they had any questions, and then, I would share an interesting case from my work week thus far. Aside from the weekly lecture on ancillary techniques, such as molecular and immuno-diagnostics, I assigned multiple activities such as journal club/conferences, discussions, and my personal favorite – a mock tumor board. Each student would take turns playing the role of the physician, radiologist, cytotechnologist, pathologist, and oncologist (surgical, medical, or radiation). For my first year of instruction, I had assigned the group their “tumor” of interest, but I quickly encouraged their creativity run rampant during subsequent years.

Despite working in a cancer center and being able to recognize some fairly obscure tumors with little experience, I did not realize how much I still had to learn, even as a part-time lecturer and full-time cytotechnologist. These tumor boards taught me so much more than I expected, and I am forever thankful for the experience of having such wonderfully bright students teach ME! For one very memorable tumor board, the students elected to present the diagnosis and treatment of a male patient with multiple myeloma. Yes, plasma cells! Plasma cell neoplasm, plasmacytoma, multiple myeloma. Awesome, let’s see what this group can do! The “physician” said the patient complained of widespread bone pain, malaise, and recurrent fevers and infections. The “radiologist” presented the images of osteolytic lesions throughout the skull and vertebrae, the latter of which core biopsies and FNAs were obtained. The “cytotechnologist” described a mix of plasmablastic cells, as well as mature and immature plasma cells, some with clock face chromatin and a perinuclear hof (which is my telltale feature that I now emphatically describe to everyone else). The “pathologist” bypassed flow cytometry and performed Kappa/Lambda light chain immunohistochemistry on the core biopsy, diagnosing the patient with multiple myeloma. Unfortunately, due to the extent of the patient’s disease, the “oncologist” and her team could not increase the life expectancy, and the student’s patient expired.

Now, whenever I have a plasma cell neoplasm or multiple myeloma case, I think back to my students and their mock tumor board and everything they taught me. I just recently attended an FNA on a 79-year-old male with a history of multiple myeloma who presented with a PET positive right facial mass and right cervical lymph nodes. The radiologist performed an ultrasound-guided FNA of a right peri-mandibular soft tissue mass, and it took everything in me to not tell the radiologist anything more than “adequate.” But when I saw those perinuclear hofs, I was elated to have a definitive diagnosis!

Images 1-2. Perimandibular Mass, Right, FNA-DQ-stained smears.

Later that afternoon, I couldn’t wait to screen my pap-stained slides. The clock face chromatin was so beautiful! My cell block the following morning highlighted the textbook perfect features diagnostic of a plasma cell neoplasm.

Images 3-4. Perimandibular Mass, right, FNA. Pap-stained smears.
Image 5. Perimandibular Mass, Right, FNA. H&# cell block section.

The attending pathologist ordered a routine myeloma immunocytochemistry panel, including CD138, kappa light chain, lambda light chain, CD20, CD45, and MUM1.

Immunocytochemical stains performed on the unstained paraffin sections showed the tumor to be positive for CD138, kappa light chain, and MUM1, focal equivocal staining for CD20, and negative staining for lambda and CD45. The case was signed out as a plasma cell neoplasm.

Images 6-8. Perimandibular Mass, right, FNA. Cell block section immunocytochemistry. 6, CD138; 7, MUM1; 8, kappa light chain.

The bone marrow core biopsy was sent for Cytogenetic Microarray Analysis and Next Generation Sequencing. The CMA results revealed gains of chromosomes 3, 5, 9, 11, 15, 19, and 21 and losses of chromosome segments 1p and 2p and 7 p in mixed states. Loss of 1p is associated with a poorer prognosis for multiple myeloma. Next gen sequencing identified a tumor mutation burden of 8.4Muts/Mb with mutations detected in the following genes: FAM46C, BRAF, KAT6A, TSC1, KRAS, FLT3, and NFKBIA.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

Eye Spy 2.0

Now that you’ve seen some malignant ocular entities (both primary and metastatic), I’d like to share some (in my eyes) curveballs. Working in a cancer center, I see more cancer than I do benign processes. You can say I’m fine tuned to identifying malignant cells, and I find it difficult to rest assured that what I’m diagnosing truly is benign. When you find one malignant cell in a pleural fluid, changing the patient’s diagnosis from Stage II to Stage IV, that primed search for atypia is always on. With that said, not every specimen screened at a cancer center is malignant. We rule out malignancy and confirm benign processes as well. As for benign ocular FNAs, well… you have to be as certain calling benign as you do malignant because the process of acquiring an additional sample to confirm your diagnosis is just as involved and unpleasant as the first biopsy.

Here, I present six non-malignant eye FNA cytopreparations that had me searching for atypia longer than I expected.

Case 1. A 72 year old female with a history of breast carcinoma; She presented with a choroidal nevus, OD in 2014. The oncologist noted a slight increase in base and thickness six years after the initial evaluation. The clinical diagnosis is a choroidal nevus, rule out low-grade melanoma.

Images 1-2: Eye, Right, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: No malignant cells identified. A few benign-appearing melanocytes, consistent with nevus.

Note: Material is scant cellular and consists mainly of scattered retinal pigment epithelial cells and sensory cells. There are a few benign-appearing spindle-shaped cells with bland nuclei, consistent with nevus. However, the paucity of the sample precludes a definitive diagnosis. Recommend clinical correlation to exclude sampling error.

Case 2. A 21 month old male with a history of an iris stromal cyst, OS. Lesion is status post-FNA (twice), had regrowth, and aspirated for the third time. Previous FNAs showed no malignant cells.

Images 3-4: Eye, Left, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: No malignant cells identified. Rare pigment-laden macrophages, a few lymphocytes, and benign surface epithelial cells present. (Consistent with stromal cyst).

Case 3. A 65 year old female with a history of nevus, OD. Ocular oncology followed up and noted an increase in thickness from 2.76 to 3.00 mm. In light of family history of cutaneous melanoma, treatment is suggested. Clinical diagnosis: ciliary body melanoma.

Images 5-6: Eye, Right, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: Scant mildly atypical amelanotic spindle cells, consistent with nevus.

Note: Diagnostic material is very scant. There are a few benign-appearing single spindle cells and one cluster of cohesive spindle cells with no pigment. Prominent nucleoli are not seen. While the cytologic features in the context of clinical presentation is consistent with nevus, the paucity of the sample precludes a definitive diagnosis. There is no diagnostic evidence of malignant melanoma in this sample. Recommend clinical correlation to exclude sampling error.

Case 4. A 9 year old female with a history of retinoblastoma, OD; status post IAC (intra-arterial chemotherapy) x5, IVit melphalan x 4, and plaque radiotherapy. She recently developed vitreous hemorrhage (OD). Since the hemorrhage is obscuring the retinal view, vitrectomy is planned.

Image 7: Eye, Right, Vitreous, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: No malignant cells identified. Lymphocytes and histiocytes present.

Case 5. An 11 year old female with vitreal retinoblastomas, OU; status post CRD therapy x6; plaque I-125, EBRT, proton beam; IVit Metphalan x2, and PPV (pars plana vitrectomy), OS. She now presents with dense vitreous hemorrhage blocking view since 2019.

Images 8-9: Eye, Left, Vitreous, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: No malignant cells identified. Proteinaceous material and scattered small lymphocytes present.

Case 6. A 52 year old female with no cancer history. In 2019, she presented with pain, floaters, decreased visual acuity, and photophobia, OS. She was treated with antibiotic drops and steroids. In 2020, she was noted to have panuveitis with yellow iris nodules. FNA showed necrotic cells inadequate for diagnosis, as well as a negative culture and PCR for HSV, toxoplasmosis, CMV, and VZV. Clinical diagnosis: suspicious for iris lymphoma, OS.

Images 10-11: Eye, Left, Anterior Chamber, Fine Needle Aspiration. Pap-stain.

Final Diagnosis: Mixed inflammatory cells, favor an inflammatory process.

Note: There are neutrophils, lymphocytes, and scattered histiocytes in a background of numerous fragments of an amorphous substance. The cellularity is inadequate for flow cytometric analysis. We performed immunocytochemical stains on cytospin preparations. The lymphocytes are predominantly T-cells showing positive staining for CD45 and CD3 and negative for CD20. There is no diagnostic evidence of malignant lymphoma in this sample. The amorphous substance may represent lens fragments, in which case the possibility of lens-induced uveitis should be considered in the differential diagnosis. Recommend clinical correlation.

As you can tell, benign processes are complicated and require thorough explanations in our pathologic diagnoses, especially when they differ from the clinical impression. The majority of benign ocular FNAs are paucicellular, and we make the most of what we have through optimal preservation and preparation of cellular material. And don’t forget-not everything is cancer. Cyst contents, proteinaceous debris, and inflammatory cells make up a share of cases we see, and it’s okay to diagnosis them as benign. Just keep an eye out.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

Eye Spy

In a previous post, I mentioned how uncontrolled cell division can occur in any cell type that has the capacity to proliferate, resulting in a neoplasm. Malignancies don’t discriminate – whether the malignant cell is identified within the skin, bladder, breast, bone, muscle, or brain – cancer is cancer. Fortunately, there are many specialists within various disciplines that can identify precancerous changes and other diagnostic abnormalities. Many patients in our head & neck clinic were referred by their dentist who identified a white patch on their tongue, a lump, or a sore that bleeds easily. Similarly, ophthalmologists can recognize ocular lesions during a routine eye exam, and I’m here to share some of those interesting ocular FNA cases. The idea of sticking a needle in your eye is perhaps one of the least pleasant thoughts a person can have, however, these FNAs are crucial for cytopathologists to analyze the cells to confirm a diagnosis.

Depending on the area of the eye sampled and the nature of the lesion, eye FNAs can yield very limited material. Optimal preservation and cytopreparation of ocular samples is imperative. At times, the sample may yield less than 50 cells, from which a diagnosis is expected to be made. Patient history and clinical impression are also crucial to properly triage the FNA. For suspected lymphomas, a portion of the sample should be sent to flow cytometry. For presumed melanomas and metastatic disease, extra preparations should be prepped for immunohistochemistry analysis. In contrast, a clinical impression of a stromal cyst is important to know as these FNAs are likely to be virtually acellular albeit rare cyst contents. The following four cases are presented with their histories and clinical impressions, supplemented by ancillary material.

Case 1. 58 year old male with a history of papillary thyroid carcinoma (2016) and renal cell carcinoma (2018). He presented with periorbital pain and a choroidal mass, OS.

Images 1-3: Eye, Left, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. 1. Pap-stain; 2. vimentin +; 3. AE1/AE3 +.

Final Diagnosis: Positive for malignant cells, consistent with metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

Case 2. 58 year old female with a history of breast cancer. She presented with retinal detachment and nonpigmented nodules, OS.

Images 4-6: Eye, Left, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. 4. Pap-stain; 5. GATA-3 +; 6. AE1/AE3 +.

Final Diagnosis: Positive for malignant cells, consistent with metastatic mammary carcinoma.

Case 3. 80 year old male with a history of lung adenocarcinoma (2012), pituitary adenoma (2013), and liver carcinoid (2019). He presented with a choroidal lesion, OS.

Images 7-10: Eye, Left, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. 7. Pap-stain; 8. chromogranin +; 9. synaptophysin +; 10. TTF-1 +.

Final Diagnosis: Positive for malignant cells, metastatic neuroendocrine neoplasm (favor carcinoid tumor).

Case 4. 13 year old male with no cancer history. He presented with a choroidal lesion and retinal detachment, OD. Clinically suspicious for choroidal melanoma.

Images 11-14: Eye, Right, Choroid, Fine Needle Aspiration. 11. Pap-stain; 12. H&E; 13. HMB-45 +; 14. Melan A+.

Final Diagnosis: Positive for malignant cells, malignant melanoma (spindle B cell type).

Treatment of eye tumors can range from topical chemotherapies or excision for lesions on the surface of the eye, whereas intraocular tumors can be treated by brachytherapy or evisceration (removing intraocular contents and leaving the scleral shell) or enucleation (complete removal of both the intraocular contents and the scleral shell). While prosthetics are available for the latter therapies, an accurate cytopathology diagnosis is vital to guide treatment in the field of ocular oncology.

Well, that’s all that EYE have for you today. Stay tuned for next month’s cytology case study!

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

Lead Like No One is Watching

Even though I readily share and celebrate my accolades with family and friends, I have generally been quiet with my coworkers regarding career moves. When I passed the ASCP Specialist in Cytotechnology BOC exam three years into my career as a cytotechnologist, I only shared the news with my supervisor, cytopathology director, and a few other pathologists. After dabbling in budget and supply purchasing and compiling monthly and annual QA statistics, I completed ASCP’s certificate program from Lab Management University in 2018. The following year, I traveled to Puerto Rico for the American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) conference and sat for the International Academy of Cytology (IAC) Comprehensive Examination. Six weeks after the exam, I received word that I passed, and again, I immediately shared the exciting news with my supervisor and cytopathology director. No one else at work had a clue until a year later when they noticed extra initials behind my sign-out signature. Then, the ASCP 40 Under Forty application and eight weeks of waiting came and went this past summer and once again, I elatedly celebrated with my superiors. I have always moved in silence amongst my peers to maintain an inclusive and docile/same-level environment. While some might be supportive, not everyone actively encourages growth. Furthermore, not everyone wants an all-you-can-eat buffet on their work plate, and many lab professionals are happy with a less stressful, entry-level competency kind of routine. And that is perfectly A-OK too! Regardless, I am who I am, and for the lab professional who loves continuing education and learning new techniques and advancements across the field of health care, I wondered what career moves I would make in 2021. What goals should I set out to achieve? What is my next step?

There it is. A doctoral program. 100% Online and meant for the full-time working professional. I have officially embarked on my eight-semester-long journey to earning a Doctorate of Health Science (DHSc) with a concentration of Organizational Excellence in Healthcare. Rather than a traditional PhD which prepares scholars for research-based careers in a very focused area, the DHSc is an applied doctorate focusing on healthcare leadership in various disciplines. Now that I am halfway through my first semester, I can honestly say this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Learning about applied leadership theory in healthcare and how to effectively, efficiently, and efficaciously lead in a complex healthcare landscape has been so intellectually stimulating thus far. Most recently, my classmates and I engaged in a discussion emphasizing how today’s leaders must stay relevant in their dynamic fields, and we shared our required competencies (i.e., the knowledge, skills, and abilities) for leading people and managing resources for both today and tomorrow (Ledlow & Stephens, 2018). A recurrent theme we uncovered is the necessity for continuing education – whether it be formal or informal. Staying relevant requires healthcare leaders to read, research, and teach. As cytotechnologists, we have existing continuing education programs in place, such as ASCP’s Credential Maintenance Program, recommending certificants to participate in and record credits to renew their certifications. We have Interlaboratory Comparison Programs through the College of American Pathologists (CAP) that feature ancillary studies as a diagnostic companion to cytology slides. We watch cytoteleconferences provided by the American Society of Cytopathology (ASC). We are encouraged to attend our affiliated societies’ national conferences to collaborate interprofessionally. With all that is available, however, we still need to do more than just claim continuing education credits.

We need to stay abreast on how our field of laboratory medicine is changing and how we can accommodate those changes and adapt to those changes. We need inspiration and motivation throughout the organizational hierarchy. We need passion and commitment from all levels and all disciplines. We need transformational, flexible, and culturally competent leaders to serve as mentors for the next generation of leaders. We need leaders who continuously self-reflect and improve as they build diverse, yet cohesive teams that thrive on generating positive outcomes for the organization. To the current leaders, leaders-in-training, and the followers with potential – we must get better, we must take more initiative, we must aspire to learn more than just the “what” or the “how,” but most importantly the “why.” For the upcoming year and beyond, I challenge you to continuously learn more about your field of laboratory medicine and its impact on society. Ask why the pap guidelines have changed. Ask about the advantages of robotic bronchoscopy. Ask what molecular tests are available and which are currently in development. Ask what we can do to reduce the burden of disease in our community! Refrain from saying, “I don’t know” and respond with, “I’ll find out.” Become an expert in your field by understanding the interdependency of laboratory disciplines and beyond, and strive to actively network with each other. For those who want more, please do more! Pursue more! There is no ceiling on your potential, and there are no limits to your growth.

So sayonara to 2020, and hello to 2021! New year, new me? No. New year, improved me. And hopefully an improved you!

Image 1. “Be a Star!” (Thyroid, FNA – DQ-stained smear. Dx: Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma)


1. Ledlow, G.R. & Stephens, J.H. (2018). Leadership for health professionals: Theory, skills, and applications (3rd ed.) Jones & Bartlett Learning.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

The Rogue Anastomosis: Cytology Case Study

There are well over a hundred different cells types in the human body, and all those that have the ability to proliferate physiologically have the potential to succumb to uncontrolled cell division and thus generate a neoplasm. The tumors we most frequently encounter, like epithelial or hematologic disorders, are due to the higher proliferative rate of those cell types and the increased likelihood of an aberration or something going awry, i.e. mutations.2 Though we do come across many sarcomas and other mesenchymal tumors, this case study features a tumor derived from a cell type and structure that is rarely featured in cytology texts (an assumption, as I couldn’t find any information in the available prints within my department).

A 54 year old male patient presented to gastroenterology for severe cholecystitis. After undergoing a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the pain subsided, but the patient was encouraged to follow up with a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy (EGD) due to his age. On the EGD, the gastroenterologist identified Barrett’s esophagus as well as a small, oval intramural lesion in the greater curvature of the gastric antrum, measuring 1.6 centimeters. The gastroenterologist was sharing the patient’s history with me when he described the endoscopic ultrasound findings of a well-defined hypoechoic and heterogenous lesion appearing to originate from the muscularis propria. His differential diagnoses based on imaging included a GIST, leiomyoma, or glomus tumor. The gastroenterologist did mention that the likelihood of this being a GIST or leiomyoma was very low. Despite lack of vascular structures visualized on Doppler imaging, the needle passes which I received to make air-dried Diff-Quik-stained smears were exceptionally bloody both grossly and microscopically.

I called my pathologist on cytology service for the day, informed him of the history presented to me by the gastroenterologist, and upon seeing the “rare atypical cells” through our telepathology platform, I hear him say, “a glomus tumor? Hmm, yes, it could be a glomus tumor.”
You know that feeling when you’ve asked someone to repeat themselves three times and you still didn’t comprehend them, so out of courtesy, you pretend to know what they said and express understanding? Yet internally you are confused beyond repair?

I repeated back to the gastroenterologist, “he said it could be a glomus tumor!”
Here comes the inner dialogue – what on earth is a glomus tumor? Why am I trying so hard to not look like an idiot right now? It’s okay to not know things, especially rare tumors that you’ve never come across. I have no idea what this tumor is, where it originates, what it consists of, this looks like a cohesive neuroendocrine tumor to me or even a basaloid squamous cell carcinoma. Obviously, it’s representative of the lesion, but I have no idea what a glomus (should I be pronouncing it with a long “o” or a short “o”?) is.

Images 1-2. Distal Gastric Antrum, Submucosa, FNA – DQ-stained smears.

After screening the Pap-stained smears and H&E Cell Block sections the next morning, the cells still had cuboidal cells with features similar to a neuroendocrine tumor to me. The best I could call it was a neoplasm with neuroendocrine features before leaving the case with the pathologist on service to order immunostains.

Images 3-5. Distal Gastric Antrum, Submucosa, FNA – 3-4: Pap-stained smears; 5: H&E cell block section

IHC returned that afternoon, showing the neoplastic cells to be positive for SMA, focal weakly positive for synaptophysin, and negative for PanCK, CD34, desmin, chromogranin, CD45, DOG-1, HMB-45, and S-100 protein. Between the immunostains and the morphology findings, the case was signed out as a glomus tumor. Additional immunostains were performed showing the tumor cells are positive for vimentin and have a Ki-67 proliferation index of only 1%. When the tumor was resected two months after the initial FNA, pathology reported the findings as a 1.0 centimeter glomus tumor that was completely excised.

Images 6-7. Distal Gastric Antrum, Submucosa, Resection – 6, H&E section 100X; 7, H&E section 400X.

This tumor arises from the glomus body, which is a normal arteriovenous shunt that aids in regulation of temperature and blood flow in the body. Surrounded by smooth muscle tissue, the glomus body contracts and relaxes, closing and opening the shunt between the efferent venules and the afferent arteriole to pull blood flow away from the periphery and back into the body’s core or to allow heat dissipation. Glomus tumors are most often found in the dermis of the fingertips and toes, especially under nail beds due to the pain and cold sensitivity from exposure to cold.1,5 Glomus bodies are also found in the stomach as a thermoregulator (think cold food/liquids entering the digestive system), and account for 1% of mesenchymal gastric tumors.4 Most glomus tumors are benign and rarely undergo malignant transformation, and complete excision of these tumors typically provides immediate relief with little to no chance of recurrence.1,3


  1. Fazwi, R., Chandran, P. A., & Ahmad, T. S. (2011). Glomus Tumour: A Retrospective Review of 15 Years Experience in A Single Institution. Malays Orthop J., 5(3), 8-12. doi:10.5704/MOJ.1111.007
  2. Holly, J. M. P., Zeng, L., & Perks, C. M. (2013). Epithelial cancers in the post-genomic era: should we reconsider our lifestyle? Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, 32(3–4), 673–705.
  3. Nascimento, E. F. R., Fonte, F. P., Mendonça, R. L., Nonose, R., de Souza, C. A. F., & Martinez, C. A. R. (2011). Glomus Tumor of the Stomach: A Rare Cause of Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Case Reports in Surgery, 2011, 1–5.
  4. Papadelis, A., Brooks, C. J., & Albaran, R. G. (2016). Gastric glomus tumor. Journal of Surgical Case Reports, 2016(11), rjw183.
  5. Uddin, M. M., Biswas, S. K., Rahman, M. H., Karmakar, N. C., Rahman, M. M., Alam, S. A. U., & Mondal, A. R. (2017). Sub-ungual Glomus Tumor: Study of 20 Cases. Faridpur Medical College Journal, 12(2), 64–67.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

Cytology Case Study: Strike a Chord

Every FNA ROSE attended where the patient is conscious and attentive can be tricky to navigate. You have to remain cognizant of your word choice, your demeanor, and the delivery of your adequacy statement to the clinician. The patient is already in a heightened state of awareness because he or she is about to be probed with a needle (or six!) for a test that is likely to rule out a benign or malignant process. I prefer to go into my biopsies with some sort of clinical picture and as many details as I can retain – is there a previous history of cancer? Where is the lesion located? Is it a single mass or are there multiple lesions? What does the radiologic imaging suggest? Are there any elevated serum tumor markers? I need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. However, there are rare instances when cytotechs are asked to rush down to an unscheduled add-on biopsy where we have yet to research the impression documented in the patient’s medical record. In those situations, I ask the clinician (typically an interventional radiologist) all the questions I can think of while still emulating some form of confidence to the patient.

I entered the procedure room and greeted the radiologist, radiology fellow, tech, nurse, and the patient, a 57-year-old male who was prone and alert on the table. I jotted down notes during the timeout and pulled the radiologist aside to ask, “does the patient have a history of cancer?” In this case, the answer was “they have a soft tissue tumor in the left gluteus, which is what we’re biopsying.” “Alright, let’s get those differentials rolling – sarcoma; after my hibernoma experience – a lipomatous tumor; or could it be a carcinoma (because yes, I’ve seen a lung adenocarcinoma metastasize to the gluteal muscle before)? Hmm… what else? What other mesenchymal tumors could originate here… or metastasize here?” My brainstorming balloon was popped by the radiologist asking if I was ready for the first needle pass. I replied, “Yes, of course!” I glance over at the patient and smile, trying to assure him AND myself that I’ll be able to give him a definitive answer to his puzzle.

Here’s what I visualized under the microscope after I stained the first air-dried smear in our Diff-Quik solutions.

Images 1-2. Left gluteal FNA, DQ-stained smears.

My inner monologue became: “Well, it’s not a sarcoma or a carcinoma. It doesn’t look malignant.  Not quite a hibernoma. What is with that myxoid matrix? It’s not mucinous or serous, so… what is it…? It’s granular! Wait. Those nuclei. They’re so… what’s the word? It’s definitely representative of the lesion. Regardless, it’s adequate!” I turned away from my microscope to face the team – “The sample is adequate. May I have a few more passes for my cell block, and will you collect core biopsies, too? “Yes and yes,” the radiologist replied. I smiled again at the patient, and he mouthed, “thank you.” “Phew, mission accomplished,” I thought. “Now what the heck are those hallmark cells called mixed in with a majority of epithelioid cells arranged in chords?”

I climb the stairs up to the lab and do a quick Google search. “DUH! Physaliphorous cells!” These cells have a distinct feature where the nucleus is centrally located but is also scalloped by cytoplasmic vacuoles. There weren’t as many physaliphorous (physaliferous) cells as I had hoped to appreciate. Some of the cells looked lipoblastic in nature with larger vacuoles displacing the nuclei to the periphery, almost signet ring in nature, many were cuboidal. But that was it… those cells! Now, imagine the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo struggles to tell his classmates he lives in an anemone. That was my garbled attempt at pronouncing “physaliphorous” to the attending pathologist when sharing my interpretation. She looked at me like I was saying anything other than the word I was trying to reproduce. I cannot blame her; I still turn beet-red at the memory. But I was convinced that a chordoma was the tumor I presented to her.

After I processed my FNA, I examined the patient’s electronic health record to see if he had any previously biopsied neoplasms on file, and much to my surprise, the patient was diagnosed with a primary chordoma of the sacrum and treated with en bloc resection and radiation in 2013. Mutation analysis was performed on the resection of this chordoma, which exhibited a homozygous loss of CDK2NA (p16). The patient had one recurrence at an outside facility in 2015 and transferred his care to our institution for follow-up. Now, the patient presented with this gluteal metastasis and soon thereafter, a paraspinal metastasis. As the patient’s chordoma did not completely respond to radiation, the clinical care team turned to the tyrosine kinase inhibitor, Gleevec, which was discontinued due to disease progression. The patient’s regimen then went on to include sunitinib, which was also discontinued due to disease progression, palbociclib, then nivolumab, followed by radiation to the thoracic spine, sorafenib, and now is on a clinical trial for patients with advanced refractory cancers.

When I turned in my Diff-Quik & Pap-stained slides and the cell block H&E sections with a diagnosis of chordoma the next day, the attending cytopathologist paged through one of our cytology texts to a tidbit on chordomas before signing out the case. She reviewed the section with me. Other than the unique physaliphorous cells, it turns out a diagnosis of chordoma is fairly rare, as it is the only malignancy derived from the notochord, typically occurring at either end of the axial skeleton.1 Metastasis of these tumors is also rare, so this case of widespread metastatic disease was even more intriguing to me.

Images 3-8. Left gluteal FNA . Images 3-5, Pap-stained smears; 6-8, H&E cell block sections.


  1. Cibas, E. S., & Ducatman, B. S. (2009). Cytology: Diagnostic Principles and Clinical Correlates, Expert Consult – Online and Print (3rd ed.). Saunders.

-Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here: Cytology Case Study

In my previous post here on Lablogatory, I discussed the diagnosis and comparison of two mediastinal fine needle aspiration (FNA) cases – thymoma and thymic carcinoma. I tooted my own horn of how I instantly recognized the tumors on Rapid On-Site Evaluation (ROSE), as the characteristics were exactly how I remembered them from my cytology knowledge bank formulated in grad school. Here’s a case that completely threw me off my game. I had never seen this type of tumor nor heard of it, at least not to my memory, but that’s the beauty of lab medicine—we’re continuously learning.

A 43 year old female with hypertension and no cancer history presented to a vascular surgery clinic for treatment of varicose veins, and an ultrasound was performed, noting a mass in the left inguinal region. The patient subsequently had an MRI, which demonstrated a predominantly fatty mass in that area with enhancement and probable necrosis within the lesion. The differential diagnosis determined by imaging was fat necrosis versus liposarcoma. With this risk of malignancy, the patient came to our institution for biopsy and further guidance. The ultrasound department visualized the left inguinal mass of mixed echogenicity, measuring 3 centimeters with a focal area of central necrosis.

After receiving two FNA passes of the patient’s left inguinal mass from the radiologist, I made mirror-image smears of the samples, air-drying one slide for Rapid On-Site Evaluation (ROSE), fixing the other in 95% Ethanol, and rinsing the needles in Hanks Balanced Salt Solution to later make a FFPE-Cell Block.

Image 1. Left inguinal FNA, DQ-stained smear.
Image 2. Left inguinal FNA, Pap stained smear.
Image 3. Left inguinal FNA. H&E cell block section.

I remember my differentials – Lipomatous tumor of unknown etiology versus clear cell renal cell carcinoma versus adrenal cortical carcinoma. I knew it was a neoplasm of sorts and that we had adequate material for a diagnosis. But I could not make a definitive diagnosis, and it mind-boggled me. That’s when my cytopathology director reviewed the case with me, and I went straight to the cytology encyclopedias.

The FNA specimen was signed out as a “Benign-appearing adipose tissue neoplasm, consistent with hibernoma.

Image 4. Left inguinal core biopsy, H&E section 100X.
Image 5. Left inguinal core biopsy, H&E section 400x.

Hibernoma was also diagnosed on the concurrent core biopsy specimen by the surgical pathologist on service.

Hibernomas are rare brown fat tumors that typically develop where brown fat is normally distributed throughout the body, such as the upper back, thigh, and retroperitoneum.2 Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue is responsible for non-shivering, mitochondria-rich thermogenesis.3 From the cytology images, one can appreciate the small, eccentric nuclei and capillaries, featuring three cell types: mature adipocytes (think lipoma), lipoblast-like cells (think liposarcoma), and hibernoma cells, which appear to be highly, but uniformly vacuolated adipocytes with granular cytoplasm.

Two months after the initial biopsy, the patient underwent a radical resection of her left thigh hibernoma en bloc with a portion of the iliopsoas muscle and femoral nerve neurolysis. The intraoperative findings showed a 5.2 centimeter well-circumscribed mass directly beneath the femoral vessels, beginning at the common femoral artery and extending to the level of bifurcation of the superficial femoral artery and profunda. The mass was adherent to the posterior wall of the vessel, but fortunately did not involve the adventitial layer. The mass, however, was more adherent to the pectineus muscle and inseparable from the middle portion of the iliopsoas muscle. The mass was also adherent to the hip, and in order to clear the mass from that space, an arthrotomy was made.

Image 6. Left inguinal resection, H&E section 100 x.
Image 7. Left inguinal mass resection, H&E section 400x.

The surgical pathologist signed out the case as follows:

– Hibernoma with focal myxoid changes, 5.3. cm. The inked margins showed no tumor.

 In the middle of the hibernoma, there was a nodular myxoid lesion with spindle cells. Due to a question of liposarcoma, cytogenomic microarray analysis (CMA) was performed which was negative for genomic imbalances. Immunostain performed on a frozen section of tissue showed that the atypical cells were positive for Desmin, confirming that they are skeletal muscle.

If this case was diagnosed as a liposarcoma rather than hibernoma, one would see atypical lipoblasts with more prominent capillaries, like a well-differentiated liposarcoma. Depending on the type of liposarcoma, one might also identify a myxoid stroma or round cells.2

Hibernomas are a unique kind of tumor where the consensus on how to manage them remains split – some favor observation, while others suggest surgical intervention. From the literature, there are no reports to suggest metastasis or malignant degeneration/transformation, but many do favor a resection if feasible.1


  1. AlQattan, A. S., Al Abdrabalnabi, A. A., Al Duhileb, M. A., Ewies, T., Mashhour, M., & Abbas, A. (2020). A Diagnostic Dilemma of a Subcutaneous Hibernoma: Case Report. American Journal of Case Reports, 21, 1–5.
  2. Cibas, E. S., & Ducatman, B. S. (2009). Cytology: Diagnostic Principles and Clinical Correlates, Expert Consult – Online and Print (3rd ed.). Saunders.
  3. Cypress, A., & Khan, C. (2010). The Role and Importance of Brown Adipose Tissue in Energy Homeostasis. Curr Opin Pediatr, 22(4), 478–484.

Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

A 2-For-1 at 61: Mediastinal Cytology Case Studies

For cytologists who perform Rapid On-Site Evaluations (ROSE) on Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsies, there is a training platform where you are guided and supported along until you are ready to fly solo. When I was ready to leave that nest, I soared! I saw (and still see) the world through ROSE-colored glasses and fell in love with the responsibility of being competent in assessing adequacy on my own. But I still remember the anxiety of my first solo FNA in diagnostic imaging—a male with a mediastinal mass, 6.2 cm, taking up far too much room in the thorax for him to be asymptomatic. During the timeout, I confirmed the patient’s information and the anatomic site of the biopsy. On the computer I can see the mass on the CT scan image, and then I glanced into the room and saw the patient prone, covered by a sterile drape, and in a much more relaxed state than myself. Diagnostic imaging is likely the coldest department in the hospital, and I was nervously (but thankfully not obviously) sweating. I prep my slides, label everything I need, and head into the procedure room for my first needle pass. I make my smears, rinse my needle into Hanks Balanced Salt Solution, and return to the patient’s side for my second needle pass. I repeat the process and stain my smears. Under the microscope, I see that my slide is saturated with epithelioid cells. Before I actually had the chance to interpret what I was seeing and formulate a differential diagnosis, I went on auto-pilot and thought, “THYMOMA!” “Alright, focus. Don’t get ahead of yourself. It might just be a lucky guess. Look at the second pass,” I said to myself. I move the next slide onto the stage, and it’s even more cellular than before. I’m on a thymoma one-track mind and holding steady. I tell the radiologist that the smears are adequate, but I need 3 more passes from a 25-gauge needle or 2 passes from a 22-gauge needle for my cell block, whichever she prefers, and I also need core biopsies. I received 2 more 22-gauge needle passes, completed my FNA quick evaluation worksheet, checked the core biopsy requisition and container labels, thanked the team, and walked back upstairs to the lab. What an adrenaline rush! Now I just need the seal of approval from my attending pathologist on cytology service for the day, and I get the green light! I presented the case to our cytopathology director, he asked me my thoughts, I shyly suggested a thymoma, and he agreed, told me it was a great sample, and I processed the remainder of my FNA. Phew. I passed, and on an uncommon tumor I briefly studied in school nonetheless.

Here’s that first solo case—an FNA of the Anterior Mediastinum on a 62 year old male patient with no prior cancer history:

Images 1-6. Anterior Mediastinal FNA – 1, DQ-stained smear; 2, Pap-stained smear; 3, H&E cell block section; 4, AE1/AE3 + Immunostain; 5, CK5/6 + Immunostain; 6, p63 + Immunostain.

Cytologic Diagnosis:

– Cytology features highly suggestive of thymic epithelial neoplasm.
Note: We performed immunocytochemical stains on paraffin sections of the cell block. Tumor cells show positive staining for AE1/AE3, CK5/6, CK7, p63, and CD117; and negative staining for CD45, CD5, CD57, TTF-1, synaptophysin, and PAX-8.  The proliferation index by Ki-67 immunostaining is approximately 10%. The combination of morphology and immunoprofile in the context of clinical presentation is consistent with thymoma.

Two months later, the thymus was resected and diagnosed as the following:

– Invasive thymoma, WHO type B3

Images 7-8. Thymus Resection – 7, H&E section 100X; 8, H&E section 400X.

Flash forward 3 years from my initial thymoma case to a CT-guided biopsy of a left-sided mediastinal mass in a 61-year-old male with a history of lymphoma. I went into the procedure with the assumption that I might see a lymphoid transformation to Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) or even Hodgkin’s due to the location. However, on my ROSE, the cells looked similar to but not exactly like the thymoma from 2014. I wanted to go full bore thymic carcinoma with squamoid features. The cells were more disorganized and pleomorphic in appearance than the first thymoma, much more variation in nuclear size. They simply appeared more aggressive. And the lymphocytes sealed the deal on the thymoma diagnosis. I knew it wasn’t DLBCL or Hodgkin’s, but then I started to look more carefully at the lymphocytes. There was something about them too… “LIGHT BULB! GET MORE MATERIAL FOR FLOW! The patient has small lymphocytic lymphoma. It’s likely here too!” Yes, there is a great deal of inner monologue on ROSE’s.

After examining the Diff-Quik slides, Pap-stained slides, and H&E Cell Block sections, I called it like I saw it: “Thymic carcinoma with squamoid features. Atypical lymphoid population, recommend correlation with flow cytometry.”

Images 9-13. Left-sided Mediastinal FNA – 9, DQ-stained smear; 10, Pap-stained smear; 11, H&E cell block section; 12, p63 + Immunostain; 13, CD5 + Immunostain.

The cytology of this case was signed out as:

– Positive for malignant cells.
– Thymic epithelial neoplasm, favor type B3 thymoma.
Note: The specimen contains atypical epithelial clusters admixed with lymphocytes. Immunohistochemical stains performed on cell block sections, with proper positive and negative controls, show that the epithelial tumor cells are positive for pancytokeratin, CK7, p63, CD5, and CD117, while negative for CDX2, TTF-1, GATA3, and WT-1. CD1a and CD57 show faint staining in rare lymphocytes. TDT is negative. CD99 is positive in focal epithelial component and few lymphocytes. The Ki-67 shows proliferative index of focally up to 20% in the epithelial component. The findings support diagnosis if type B3 thymoma (well differentiated thymic carcinoma.)
The flow cytometry report demonstrated a population of CD5 positive monoclonal B-cells.

Three months after the FNA of the mediastinal mass, the patient underwent a radical thymectomy and received the following diagnosis:

– Thymic squamous cell carcinoma arising in a background of thymoma B3 (well differentiated thymic carcinoma). Carcinoma is confined to the thymus. Lymphovascular invasion is identified. Inked surgical resection margin is negative for carcinoma.
– Lymph nodes involved by small lymphocytic lymphoma, no metastatic carcinoma seen.
– The lymphocytes in the tumor are mostly CD3+ T cells. Focal areas show some CD20+ & CD23+ B cells which may represent small lymphocytic lymphoma infiltration.

Images 14-15: Radical Thymus Resection. 14, H&E section 400X; 15, H&E section 600X.

I found this case absolutely fascinating. To be able to diagnosis two entities in one FNA – both a thymic carcinoma and a background of small lymphocytic lymphoma from one sample. There’s something to be said about those rare tumors—after screening classic textbook lung, breast, colon, and pancreatic cancers day in and day out, the infrequently diagnosed tumors (both benign and malignant) are either easily forgotten or forever engrained in the cytology knowledge bank. Fortunately, in both of these cases, thymomas fell into the latter.

Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.

It’s Personal: A Case Study Close to Home

I’ve always been fascinated with medicine and the human body, knowing that I wanted to make a career of it since childhood. I was taking an elective summer course in Histology when a close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer over a decade ago, and that’s when I recognized pathology/laboratory medicine was my specialty. My questions began when her sentinel lymph node had both a different morphological picture and immunohistochemical signature than the primary tumor, and I wanted to know why. Why did her initial core biopsy only show ductal carcinoma, yet post-lumpectomy, her sentinel node was diagnosed as metastatic lobular carcinoma? Where was the second primary tumor? I needed answers, my family needed answers, and that quest propelled me to apply to Jefferson’s Master of Science in Cytotechnology program, fueling my career in Cytotechnology.

A year after I started my career at Fox Chase Cancer Center, my relative received a call – her mammogram showed two abnormal areas. Eight years after her first lumpectomy and completion of a chemotherapy and radiation regimen… eight years in remission, we both knew what this meant. I drove her to the physician’s office, and her surgeon called me into the room after he procured the core biopsies of both lesions. I saw the white “worms” of tissue in the formalin containers and felt confident of a successful procedure. I looked up to see the image of the localization wires within the tumors and heard him say, “if this does come back as cancer, which I’m fairly certain it will, we can either proceed with another lumpectomy or mastectomy.” My relative was silent the entire ride home; she needed time to process. After the not-so-surprising path report came back as ductal carcinoma in both lesions, I called her from work and said, “you’re coming to Fox Chase for a second opinion. You’re having a double mastectomy. We are NOT messing around. Not everyone gets a second chance, and I’ve seen what this care team is capable of – they know your cancer better than anyone.” She calls me her “tough cookie” both out of affection and annoyance. Little did she know my tough cookie exterior was shielding a crumbling interior. After much hesitation due to her fear of the unknown, she scheduled her second opinion.

Images 1-6: My relative’s ductal carcinoma: H&E, ER+, PR+, HER2 1+ (negative FISH), E-cadherin+, sentinel node micromatastasis.

In the meantime, she had an MRI which demonstrated the two known lesions in the right breast, but also a large “enhancement” in the right breast. The MRI identified an area of enhancement in the left breast as well. And with those results, my relative felt comfortable withdrawing the lumpectomy plan from the table and played the card of double mastectomy with possible right-sided axillary lymph node dissection. A diagnosis of grade II invasive ductal carcinoma was made in the 1.5 cm right breast lesions, and the 6 cm right breast mass was diagnosed as invasive lobular carcinoma. The right axillary sentinel node demonstrated micrometastasis. On the left side, the pathology revealed a 3.5 cm grade II residual in-situ and invasive lobular carcinoma. She had a TRAM flap reconstruction at the time of her double mastectomy with radiation to the right breast after she recovered. She is tolerating and responding well to the daily dose of her aromatase inhibitor and now knows far too much about breast cancer and hormone receptor status thanks to my harping on the subject.

We both went through clinical genetics screenings, and despite our strong family history of breast cancer, no known germline mutations or variants of undetermined significance were detected in either of our peripheral blood samples. I’m already on board with the “increased lifetime risk of breast cancer” screening guidelines, and if so much as atypical ductal hyperplasia is diagnosed, I am more than willing to have a semi-prophylactic double mastectomy, just to reduce my overall risk of both carcinoma AND recurrence. My relative’s breast cancer experience set the precedence for my approach in the field of cytotechnology. From the beginning, I craved definitive answers for her, and I will do whatever I can as a cytotechnologist to provide definitive answers for all of my patients.

I still remember attending my first ultrasound-guided FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration) after my relative’s mastectomy. The patient was 42, a mother to a 3 year old and 6 year old, and presented with triple negative, grade III, poorly differentiated breast cancer and cervical, occipital, hilar, and mediastinal lymphadenopathy.

Image 7,8: US-guided FNA of right cervical lymph node, Diff-Quik and Papanicolau stains. Metastatic PD Breast Carcinoma.

I assisted the radiologist in obtaining cellular material from the patient’s targeted right cervical lymph node, and when the radiologist prepared the core biopsy needle, the patient started to tear up, knowing well what the lymphadenopathy indicated. She told us she knows how aggressive her cancer is, how her young children are going to lose their mom, and I remember doing everything I could to hold it together and provide my adequacy statement to the radiologist. Like a child on the playground trying not to cry in front of her friends after skinning her knee, I gathered all my paperwork and the specimen containers, cleaned up my cytology cart, and walked back upstairs to our cytoprep lab. I assigned the specimen an accession number, handed the prep tech my cell block tube so she could spin down the residual material in formalin and ensure the cold ischemic time was less than one hour, and I bee-lined for a private space. I found our cytology file room, closed the door behind me, sank against the wall, and cried. I, too, knew the likelihood of her children losing their mom without medical intervention, and that the intent to cure would be the most difficult journey of this young woman’s life. This is why I’m here. This is why I fight for more material, why I fight for answers, and why I will always put the patient first.

Taryn Waraksa, MS, SCT(ASCP)CM, CT(IAC), has worked as a cytotechnologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since earning her master’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University in 2014. She is an ASCP board-certified Specialist in Cytotechnology with an additional certification by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC). She is also a 2020 ASCP 40 Under Forty Honoree.