The Journal of Laryngology & Otology

Main Articles

How good are we at fine needle aspiration cytology?

S Carra1 c1, V Visvanathana1, T Hossaina1, S Uppala1, P Chengota1 and C J Woodheada1

a1 ENT Department, Leeds General Infirmary, UK


Objectives: To determine the accuracy of fine needle aspiration cytology conducted within a standard ENT out-patients service (rather than a one-stop neck lump clinic), and also to assess the value of ultrasound guidance during fine needle aspiration cytology.

Design: Retrospective study of all patients undergoing fine needle aspiration cytology of a neck lump, from 2005 to 2008 in Leeds teaching hospitals.

Main outcome measures: Accuracy of fine needle aspiration cytology, compared with the corresponding histology report of the original surgical specimen, and non-diagnostic fine needle aspiration cytology rates with and without ultrasound.

Results: Fine needle aspiration cytology yielded the following respective sensitivity, specificity and accuracy rates: 85, 91 and 87 per cent for lymph nodes; 80, 93 and 89 for salivary glands; and 52, 80 and 69 for thyroid. The proportion of non-diagnostic procedures was 28 per cent, both with and without ultrasound guidance.

Conclusion: Cytologist-led fine needle aspiration cytology would have reduced the time to diagnosis and the number of clinic visits per patient. Fine needle aspiration cytology was accurate for predicting malignancy in salivary gland and lymph node lesions, and for diagnosing lymph node pathology. Study results did not support the use of ultrasound guidance during fine needle aspiration cytology.

(Accepted October 21 2009)

(Online publication April 20 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: Mr Simon Carr, ENT Department, Leeds General Infirmary, Great George Street, Leeds LS1 3EX, UK. E-mail:


Presented as a poster at the British Academic Conference of Otolaryngologists, 8–10 July 2009, Liverpool, UK.

Mr S Carr takes responsibility for the integrity of the content of the paper.

Competing interests: None declared