Patterns of Lymph Node Pathology; Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy as an Evaluation Tool for Lymphadenopathy: A Retrospective Descriptive Study Conducted at the Largest Hospital in Africa

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 19;10(6):e0130148. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130148. eCollection 2015.


Background: Lymphadenopathy is a common clinical presentation of disease in South Africa (SA), particularly in the era of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and tuberculosis (TB) co-infection.

Methods: Data from 560 lymph node biopsy reports of specimens from patients older than 12 years at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2012 was extracted from the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), division of Anatomical Pathology. Cytology reports of lymph node fine needle aspirates (FNAs) performed prior to lymph node biopsy in 203 patients were also extracted from the NHLS. Consent was not obtained from participants for their records to be used as patient information was anonymized and de-identified prior to analysis.

Results: The majority of patients were female (55%) and of the African/black racial group (90%). The median age of patients was 40 years (range 12-94). The most common indication for biopsy was an uncertain diagnosis (more than two differential diagnoses entertained), followed by a suspicion for lymphoma, carcinoma and TB. Overall, malignancy constituted the largest biopsy pathology group (39%), with 36% of this group being carcinoma and 27% non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 22% of the total sampled nodes displayed necrotizing granulomatous inflammation (including histopathology and cytology demonstrating definite, and suspicious for mycobacterial infection), 8% comprised HIV reactive nodes; in the remainder no specific pathology was identified (nonspecific reactive lymphoid hyperplasia). Kaposi sarcoma (KS) accounted for 2.5% of lymph node pathology in this sample. Concomitant lymph node pathology was diagnosed in four cases of nodal KS (29% of the subset). The co-existing pathologies were TB and Castleman disease. HIV positive patients constituted 49% of this study sample and the majority (64%) of this subset had CD4 counts less than 350 cells/ul. 27% were HIV negative and in the remaining nodes, the HIV status of patients was unknown. The most common lymph node pathologies in HIV positive patients were Mycobacterial infection (31%), HIV reactive nodes (15%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (15%) and nonspecific reactive lymphoid hyperplasia (15%). Only 8.7% were of Hodgkin lymphoma. In contrast, the most common lymph node pathologies in HIV negative patients were nonspecific reactive lymphoid hyperplasia (45%), carcinoma (25%) and Mycobacterial infection (11%). In this group, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma constituted 9% and 8%, respectively. There were more cases of high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the HIV positive group compared to the HIV negative group. FNA and lymph node biopsy had statistically significant good agreement with regard to Hodgkin lymphoma (K 0.774, SE 0.07, 95% CI 0.606-0.882, p=0.001), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (K 0.640, SE 0.07, 95% CI 0.472-0.807, p=0.001), carcinoma (K 0.723, SE 0.069, 95% CI 0.528-0.918, p=0.001), and mycobacterial infection (K 0.726, SE 0.07, 95% CI 0.618-0.833, p=0.001).

Conclusions: The most common lymph node pathologies in CHBAH are malignancies, nonspecific reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, necrotizing granulomatous inflammation and HIV reactive nodes. The distribution of disease differs in HIV positive patients. Overall, adequate FNA samples of lymph nodes have been found to have good correlation with lymph node biopsy findings in our setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • South Africa
  • Young Adult