Does the surgeon still have a role to play in the diagnosis and management of lymphomas?

World J Surg Oncol. 2008 Feb 4:6:13. doi: 10.1186/1477-7819-6-13.


Background: Over the course of the past 40 years, there have been a significant number of changes in the way in which lymphomatous disease is diagnosed and managed. With the advent of computed tomography, there is little role for staging laparotomy and the surgeon's role may now more diagnostic than therapeutic.

Aims: To review all cases of lymphoma diagnosed at a single institution in order determine the current role of the surgeon in the diagnosis and management of lymphoma.

Patients and methods: Computerized pathology records were reviewed for a five-year period 1996 to 2000 to determine all cases of lymph node biopsy (incisional or excisional) in which tissue was obtained as part of a planned procedure. Cases of incidental lymphadenopathy were thus excluded.

Results: A total of 297 biopsies were performed of which 62 (21%) yielded lymphomas. There were 22 females and 40 males with a median age of 58 years (range: 19-84 years). The lymphomas were classified as 80% non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, 18% Hodgkin's lymphoma and 2% post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder. Diagnosis was established by general surgeons (n = 48), ENT surgeons (n = 9), radiologists (n = 4) and ophthalmic surgeons (n = 1). The distribution of excised lymph nodes was: cervical (n = 23), inguinal (n = 15), axillary (n = 11), intra-abdominal (n = 6), submandibular (n = 2), supraclavicular (n = 2), periorbital (n = 1), parotid (n = 1) and mediastinal (n = 1). Fine needle aspiration cytology had been performed prior to biopsy in only 32 (52%) cases and had suggested: lymphoma (n = 10), reactive changes (n = 13), normal (n = 5), inadequate (n = 4). The majority (78%) of cervical lymph nodes were subjected to FNAC prior to biopsy whilst this was performed in only 36% of non-cervical lymphadenopathy.

Conclusion: The study has shown that lymphoma is a relatively common cause of surgical lymphadenopathy. Given the limitations of FNAC, all suspicious lymph nodes should be biopsied following FNAC even if the FNAC is reported normal or demonstrating reactive changes only. With the more widespread application of molecular techniques, and the development of improved minimally-invasive procedures, percutaneous and endoscopic techniques may come to dominate, however, at present; the surgeon still has an important role to play in the diagnosis if not treatment of lymphomas.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Hodgkin Disease / diagnosis
  • Hodgkin Disease / pathology*
  • Hodgkin Disease / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymph Node Excision / methods
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymph Nodes / surgery
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / pathology*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician's Role*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome