Histopathological diagnoses on pleural biopsy specimens over a 15-year period at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa: A retrospective review

S Afr Med J. 2018 Dec 13;109(1):53-57. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2018.v109i1.13400.


Background: Pleural effusions are a common reason for presentation to healthcare facilities. Blind closed pleural biopsy can be a useful tool to diagnose their cause, especially in resource-limited settings.

Objectives: To determine the aetiology, frequency and change in profile of histopathological diagnoses made at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH), Johannesburg, South Africa, over the period 1 January 2001 - 31 December 2015.

Methods: Pleural biopsies performed at CHBAH and analysed by histopathologists from the National Health Laboratory Service at the hospital over the study period were retrospectively reviewed by accessing reports from two databases (DISA and TrakCare). The subjects' ages, genders, HIV status and histopathological diagnoses as well as adenosine deaminase and Ziehl-Neelsen results were recorded.

Results: A total of 1 013 samples were included in the study, with 780 considered adequate for assessment. The most common diagnosis was granulomatous inflammation (48.1%, n=375), with the most common type being necrotising granulomatous inflammation (73.6%, n=276). Ten percent of biopsies (n=78) showed malignancy, most commonly adenocarcinoma, with 46.2% (n=36) metastatic and 23.1% (n=18) primary lung adenocarcinoma. The odds of being diagnosed with malignancy showed increasing statistical significance above the age of 40 years: 40 - 49 years odds ratio (OR) 8.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1 - 66.9 (p=0.038); 50 - 59 years OR 12.4, 95% CI 1.6 - 95.0 (p=0.015); ≥60 years OR 23.0, 95% CI 3.1 - 171.3 (p=0.002). HIV seropositivity was associated with lower odds of being diagnosed with malignancy compared with HIV-negative patients (OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.2 - 0.9; p=0.040), with greater odds of a 'non-cancer' diagnosis in HIV-positive patients (including granulomatous inflammation and pleuritis (OR 2.16, 95% CI 1.03 - 4.51; p=0.040)).

Conclusions: Blind closed pleural biopsy has a role to play in the diagnosis of exudative pleural effusions in resource-limited settings, particularly for patients suspected to have tuberculosis (TB) or malignancy. TB remains a common cause of exudative pleural effusions. Patients aged >40 years presenting with an exudative pleural effusion should routinely have pleural biopsy performed. However, this study showed a high frequency of inadequate specimens from closed pleural biopsy. Training in the performance of this procedure to increase diagnostic rates is recommended.