Polymerase chain reaction-based K-ras mutation detection of pancreatic adenocarcinoma in routine cytology smears

Sophia K. Apple, J. Randolph Hecht, Jessica M. Novak, Roberta K. Nieberg, Dorothy L. Rosenthal, Wayne W. Grody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The cytologic diagnosis of pancreatic carcinoma is notoriously difficult, particularly in distinguishing benign atypia from well-differentiated adenocarcinoma. Mutation of codon 12 in the K-ras oncogene is frequently found with pancreatic cancers. Detection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) followed by restriction endonuclease digestion can provide a powerful tool to improve and confirm diagnosis. The authors examined the utility of PCR-based detection in the diagnosis of pancreatic carcinoma using routinely obtained cytology smears that could be collected at most hospitals. Pancreatic cytology smears were collected retrospectively from 60 patients. DNA was extracted from the slides and amplified by PCR using mismatched primers that generated a Bst-N1 recognition site with the wild type codon 12 but not with the mutant allele. Results were compared with clinical follow-up. K-ras codon 12 mutations were observed in 44 of 46 (95.7%) cases of pancreatic cancer, but not in 12 benign cases nor in 2 cases of islet cell tumor. The amplification and digestion steps proved robust and sensitive, capable of detecting mutant K-ras alleles from cytology smears that contained only small foci of suspicious cells. Our results indicate that K-ras mutation analysis can be done reliably within 1 to 2 days from routine cytology slides without special handling, increasing the sensitivity of diagnosis in ambiguous cases while maintaining cost-effective and relatively noninvasive sampling strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-326
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of clinical pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1996


  • Cytology smears
  • K-ras mutation
  • Pancreatic adenocarcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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