Clinical commentary: Atypia in lung and mediastinal lymph node fine-needle aspiration

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In patients with known or suspected lung cancer, pathologic reports of cytologic “atypia” in the mediastinal nodal fine-needle aspirate samples pose a diagnostic and therapeutic dilemma. For the patents with non-operable disease, should the radiation oncologist empirically include lymph nodes with atypical findings in the radiation field, or should they exclude these mediastinal lymph nodes from the treatment field? Inclusion of an atypical finding in the management decision or radiation target would mean that the treating physicians are interpreting a pathologic report of “atypia” as probably “positive” rather than probably “negative” disease. Empirically treating lymph nodes without cancer involvement in thoracic radiotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer, also known as elective nodal irradiation, is generally avoided given increased treatment-related toxicities including esophagitis, pneumonitis, and cardiotoxicity without a demonstrated survival benefit. However, in the case of potentially curative chemoradiation, the discretion is left to the treating radiation oncologist to estimate the likelihood of oncologic involvement based on available and often clinically indeterminate radiologic findings and known routes of cancer spread. Alternatively, physicians may consider repeat or invasive diagnostic measures. The risks and benefits of additional procedures must be taken into careful consideration in our older patient population who present with co-morbid cardiopulmonary disease and pulmonary symptoms from their cancer. If atypia is reported, written and verbal communication to relay pathologist's concern for oncologic involvement is critical as it may affect oncologic treatment recommendations and cancer outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-175
Number of pages4
JournalDiagnostic cytopathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • fine-needle aspiration
  • lung
  • mediastinal lymph nodes
  • thoracic radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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