Smoking-related interstitial lung diseases

Pathologica. 2010 Dec;102(6):525-36.


In pulmonary pathology, a wide spectrum of morphological changes is related to the consequences of smoking, and recognizing them on surgical specimens and on small transbronchial biopsies represents a challenge for the pathologist. Respiratory bronchiolitis, also referred to as smoker's bronchiolitis, is a common histologic feature found in the lung tissue of cigarette smokers. When identified as the sole histopathologic finding in the clinical setting of symptomatic interstitial lung disease, a diagnosis of respiratory bronchiolitis-interstitial lung disease is made. Since smoking is recognized to cause a variety of histologic patterns encompassing respiratory bronchiolitis, respiratory bronchiolitis-interstitial lung disease, desquamative interstitial pneumonia and pulmonary Langerhans cell hystiocytosis, smoking-related interstitial lung disease may be a useful concept to keep in mind for the pathologists. The relationship of smoking with each of these entities has been largely established on the basis of epidemiologic evidence. Although they have been retained as distinct and separate conditions in various classifications of interstitial lung diseases, these entities share a number of clinical, radiologic, and pathologic features suggesting that they represent a spectrum of patterns of interstitial lung disease occurring in predisposed individuals who smoke. Evaluation of histologic features, particularly in surgical lung biopsy samples, is important in making the distinction between these disorders. However, even after tissue biopsy, it may sometimes be difficult to clearly separate these entities. Recently, respiratory bronchiolitis-interstitial lung disease with fibrosis has been described and postulated that this is a smoking-related condition distinct from fibrotic non-specific interstitial pneumonia.

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Bronchiolitis / diagnosis*
  • Bronchiolitis / etiology
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnosis*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / etiology
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Smoking / adverse effects*