Breast conservation therapy is the standard treatment for breast cancer; however, 20–50% of operations have a positive margin leading to secondary procedures. The standard of care to evaluate surgical margins is based on permanent section. Imprint cytology (touch prep) has been used to evaluate surgical samples, but conventional techniques require an experienced cytopathologist for correct interpretation. An automated image screening process has been developed to discern cancer cells from normal epithelial cells. This technique is based on cellularity of the imprint specimen and does not require expertise in cytopathology.
A rapid immunofluorescent staining technique coupled with automated microscopy was used to classify specimens as cancer vs. noncancer based on the density of epithelial cells captured on touch prep of tumor cross-sections. The results of the automated analysis vs. a manual screen of ten 20× fields were compared to the pathology interpretation on permanent section.
A total of 34 consecutive cases were analyzed: 10 normal cases, and 24 cancer cases. The cross-section specimens for invasive cancer were correctly classified in at least 65% of the cases by using manual microscopy and at least 83% by using automated microscopy. The manual and automated microscopy correlated well for measurements of epithelial cell density (R2 = 0.64); however, the automated microscopy was more accurate.
This preliminary study using an automated system for intraoperative interpretation does not require a cytopathologist and shows that rapid, low-resolution imaging can correctly identify cancer cells for invasive carcinoma in surgical specimens. Therefore, automated determination of cellularity in touch prep is a promising technique for future margin interpretation of breast conservation therapy.