Microscopic pulmonary tumor embolism causing subacute cor pulmonale: a difficult antemortem diagnosis

Mayo Clin Proc. 1991 Feb;66(2):143-8. doi: 10.1016/s0025-6196(12)60485-6.


Microscopic pulmonary tumor embolism is difficult to diagnose. The most common initial clinical symptom is subacute progressive dyspnea, and the initial laboratory evaluation typically shows hypoxemia in a patient with clear lung fields on a chest roentgenogram. Another distinguishing feature may be hepatic abnormalities. In general, pulmonary angiography discloses no evidence of emboli, but multiple subsegmental peripheral perfusion defects are noted on ventilation-perfusion lung scans. The diagnosis of microscopic pulmonary tumor embolism can be confirmed by open-lung or transbronchial lung biopsy or by microvascular pulmonary cytology, a less invasive procedure that could be performed at the time of pulmonary angiography. Herein we describe two patients with unsuspected microscopic pulmonary tumor embolism that eventuated in subacute cor pulmonale and death. These cases illustrate the characteristic findings of this entity and emphasize the need for early diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / complications*
  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / complications*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / complications*
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating* / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Embolism / complications*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / etiology
  • Pulmonary Embolism / pathology
  • Pulmonary Heart Disease / etiology*
  • Pulmonary Heart Disease / pathology
  • Time Factors