Objective: Pulmonary cytologic specimens reported as "suspicious for malignancy" pose problems in clinical management. Silver staining for argyrophilic nucleolar organizer regions (AgNOR) has proved useful in making a cytopathologically differential diagnosis between benign and malignant cells. This study aimed to evaluate the usefulness of AgNOR score in the diagnosis of pulmonary cytologic specimens deemed inconclusive by conventional staining methods.
Methods: Pulmonary cytologic specimens initially reported as suspicious for malignancy with Papanicolaou or May-Grünwald-Giemsa (MGG) staining obtained from 35 proved cases were destained then restained using the AgNOR technique. Another 35 cases with clear cytologic diagnosis were also examined for comparison. The median number of dots, defined as the AgNOR score, was used to differentiate malignant from benign specimens.
Results: Malignant cases had significantly higher AgNOR scores than benign ones (p<0.001). There were no significant differences among smears previously stained with Papanicolaou or MGG method, among specimens obtained via bronchoscopic brushing, fine-needle aspiration of lung or pleural effusion, or among subgroups of malignant diseases. Based on the results of our previous study, the cutoff value of the AgNOR score to differentiate benignancy from malignancy was set at 6. At this setting, the sensitivity and specificity of AgNOR score were 88% and 80%, respectively, in aiding a differential diagnosis of pulmonary cytologic specimens initially classified as suspicious for malignancy. For those cases with a clear cytologic diagnosis, the sensitivity and specificity of AgNOR score were 92% and 100%, respectively. For all cases, the sensitivity of AgNOR score was 90% and the specificity was also 90%.
Conclusions: The AgNOR score is of value in aiding a differential diagnosis between benign and malignant lesions in pulmonary specimens with equivocal cytologic features.