Diagnostic schemes for fine needle aspirates of breast masses

W. H. Wolberg, M. A. Tanner, W. Y. Loh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A comparison was made of four statistically based schemes for classifying epithelial cells from 243 fine needle aspirates of breast masses as benign or malignant. Two schemes were computer-generated decision trees and two were user generated. Eleven cytologic characteristics described in the literature as being useful in distinguishing benign from malignant breast aspirates were assessed on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being closest to that described as benign and 10 to that described as malignant. The original computer-generated dichotomous decision tree gave 6 false negatives and 12 false positives on the data set; another tree generated from the current data improved performance slightly, with 5 false negatives and 10 false positives. Maximum diagnostic overlap occurred at the cut-point of the original dichotomous tree. The insertion of a third node evaluating additional parameters resulted in one false negative and seven false positives. This performance was matched by summing the scores of the eight characteristics that individually were most effective in separating benign from malignant. We conclude that, while statistically designed, computer-generated dichotomous decision trees identify a starting sequence for applying cytologic characteristics to distinguish between benign and malignant breast aspirates, modifications based on human expert knowledge may result in schemes that improve diagnostic performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-228
Number of pages4
JournalAnalytical and Quantitative Cytology and Histology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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