Rationale: Transesophageal and transbronchial, ultrasound-guided, fine-needle aspiration of enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes have become popular, but have never been compared directly.
Objectives: To compare the relative diagnostic yield and ability of the transesophageal and transbronchial approaches to reach abnormal mediastinal lymph nodes.
Methods: A total of 160 patients with enlarged lymph nodes in one of eight mediastinal lymph node stations underwent transbronchial and transesophageal biopsies in a crossover design. Each of the eight stations was allocated 20 patients. Two needle punctures were done with each approach.
Measurements: Percentage of successful biopsies, percentage of patients diagnosed, and biopsy time were measured from when the lymph node was identified with ultrasound.
Main results: Among the 106 men and 54 women (mean age 53.2 years), transbronchial aspiration was successful in 85%, and transesophageal aspiration was successful in 78% (p = 0.2). For each station, the number of positive samples for the transbronchial/transesophageal approaches was: 2R: 19/13; 2L: 16/19; 3: 17/15; 4R: 19/12; 4L: 17/20; 7: 19/20; 10R: 18/9; and 10L: 17/18. Combining both approaches produced successful biopsies in 97% and diagnoses in 94% of patients. Mean biopsy times were 3.2 minutes for the transbronchial approach and 4.1 minutes for the transesophageal approach. The transbronchial approach was superior in nodes 2R, 4R, and 10R. No complications were encountered.
Conclusions: In experienced hands, enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes may be aspirated with either the transbronchial or transesophageal approach. These nonsurgical approaches have similar diagnostic yields, although the transbronchial approach is superior for right-sided lymph nodes. Combining both approaches provides results similar those of mediastinoscopy.