Effects of COVID-19 pandemic on cytology: specimen adequacy in fine-needle aspiration of palpable head and neck masses

Kimmie Rabe, Aastha Chauhan, Jana Holler, Tetyana Mettler, Khalid Amin, Jimmie Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: At our institution, palpation-guided fine-needle aspiration (FNA) is performed by the cytopathology service on an outpatient basis at the request of otolaryngologist surgeons. The aim of this study is to assess the effect of COVID lockdown measures on our FNA service with specific focus on adequacy rates. Materials and methods: All palpation-guided FNA performed in 2019 to 2020 were identified in our pathology database. Adequacy rates were compared for 3 time periods in 2020: pre-COVID, lockdown, and post-lockdown. Results: In 2019, 121 FNAs were performed with 98% (119 of 121) obtained by pathology and only 2% (2 of 121) obtained by surgeons. In 2020, 89 FNAs were performed with 45% (40 of 89) collected by pathologists and 55% (49 of 89) by surgeons. During the pre-COVID period of 2020, 27 FNAs were collected, 85% (23 of 27) by pathologists, 8.7% of these (2 of 23) were nondiagnostic. Of the 4 FNAs performed by surgeons, all were positive for malignancy. During COVID lockdown all 24 FNAs were performed by surgeons with a 50% (12 of 24) nondiagnostic rate. Post-lockdown, with FNA referrals still below pre-COVID levels, surgeons performed 55.3% (21 of 38) of FNAs with 28.6% (6 of 21) non-diagnostic, while pathology performed 44.7% (17 of 38) with an 11.8% (2 of 17) nondiagnostic rate. Conclusions: Our FNA service noted significant changes in 2020 as a result of the COVID pandemic. Nondiagnostic rates were significantly increased in 2020 compared with 2019, primarily due to a shift to majority surgeon-performed palpation-guided FNA in the absence of cytopathology service during the lockdown period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-240
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Society of Cytopathology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Society of Cytopathology


  • COVID-19
  • Clinicians
  • Cytopathologists
  • Fine-needle aspiration
  • Head and neck masses
  • Sample adequacy

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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