Silver binding nucleolar regions (AgNORs) were evaluated in normal endocervix, adenocarcinoma, and its potential precursor, adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS), in an attempt to increase an understanding of the natural history of cervical adenocarcinoma and to identify a marker for abnormal endocervical (atypical glandular) cells which could aid diagnosis and follow up of endocervical lesions. For every 50 cells the mean AgNOR counts were as follows: normal endocervical cells (n = 15) 79.8 (95% Cl 68-91); AIS (n = 20) 200.7 (95% Cl 182-219); and invasive adenocarcinoma (n = 30) 299 (271-328). There was no overlap between the groups of normal endocervical cells and invasive adenocarcinoma, but there was significant overlap between cases of invasive adenocarcinoma and carcinoma in situ. In six out of 17 cases with AIS, NOR count in adjacent morphologically normal glandular cells ("internal" controls) was increased when compared with the "external" (normal endocervical) control group. This suggests the presence of wider field changes not previously identified using routine histological methods. The findings suggest that AIS is a potential premalignant precursor of invasive adenocarcinoma, but that assessment of NORs is of no practical use in discriminating between the histological types of cervical carcinoma.
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