Cytologic diagnosis: Expression of probability by clinical pathologists

Mary M Christopher, Christine S. Hotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Background: Clinical pathologists use descriptive terms or modifiers to express the probability or likelihood of a cytologic diagnosis. Words are imprecise in meaning, however, and may be used and interpreted differently by pathologists and clinicians. Objectives: The goals of this study were to 1) assess the frequency of use of 18 modifiers, 2) determine the probability of a positive diagnosis implied by the modifiers, 3) identify preferred modifiers for different levels of probability, 4) ascertain the importance of factors that affect expression of diagnostic certainty, and 5) evaluate differences based on gender, employment, and experience. Methods: We surveyed 202 clinical pathologists who were board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (Clinical Pathology). Surveys were distributed in October 2001 and returned by e-mail, fax, or surface mail over a 2-month period. Results were analyzed by parametric and nonparametric tests. Results: Survey response rate was 47.5% (n = 96) and primarily included clinical pathologists at veterinary schools (n = 58) and diagnostic laboratories (n = 31). Eleven of 18 terms were used "often" or "sometimes" by ≥50% of respondents. Broad variability was found in the probability assigned to each term, especially those with median values of 75 to 90%. Preferred modifiers for 7 numerical probabilities ranging from 0 to 100% included 68 unique terms; however, a set of 10 terms was used by ≥50% of respondents. Cellularity and quality of the sample, experience of the pathologist, and implications of the diagnosis were the most important factors affecting the expression of probability. Conclusion: Because of wide discrepancy in the implied likelihood of a diagnosis using words, defined terminology and controlled vocabulary may be useful in improving communication and the quality of data in cytology reporting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-95
Number of pages12
JournalVeterinary Clinical Pathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


  • Controlled vocabulary
  • Cytology
  • Cytopathology
  • Diagnosis
  • Probability
  • Terminology
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • veterinary(all)


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