Granulomatous lung disease: an approach to the differential diagnosis

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2010 May;134(5):667-90. doi: 10.5858/134.5.667.


Context: Granulomas are among the most commonly encountered abnormalities in pulmonary pathology and often pose a diagnostic challenge. Although most pathologists are aware of the need to exclude an infection in this setting, there is less familiarity with the specific histologic features that aid in the differential diagnosis.

Objective: To review the differential diagnosis, suggest a practical diagnostic approach, and emphasize major diagnostically useful histologic features. This review is aimed at surgical pathologists who encounter granulomas in lung specimens.

Data sources: Pertinent recent and classic peer-reviewed literature retrieved from PubMed (US National Library of Medicine) and primary material from the institutions of both authors.

Conclusions: Most granulomas in the lung are caused by mycobacterial or fungal infection. The diagnosis requires familiarity with the tissue reaction as well as with the morphologic features of the organisms, including appropriate interpretation of special stains. The major noninfectious causes of granulomatous lung disease are sarcoidosis, Wegener granulomatosis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, hot tub lung, aspiration pneumonia, and talc granulomatosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchoscopy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Granuloma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung Diseases / pathology*