Increased natural killer cells in fluids. A new, sensitive means of detecting carcinoma

Acta Cytol. 1996 Nov-Dec;40(6):1240-5. doi: 10.1159/000333987.


Objective: Natural killer (NK) cells are cells of undefined lineage that are capable of lysing certain tumor cell lines in vitro. Determination of NK cell percent (NK%) in effusions by flow cytometry could aid in the detection of malignancies.

Study design: Over a six-month period at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, fresh effusions were routinely processed for cytology, and a portion was submitted for lymphocyte immunophenotyping using the FACScan and a panel including CD16/CD56 for NK cells. Seventy fluids (42 pleural, 28 peritoneal) from 62 men were examined.

Results: NK cell percents were markedly increased in 15 cases (29-68%, mean 45.5) and low in 55 (2-20%, mean 8). Fourteen of the 15 cases with increased NK% were positive for carcinoma (93%), while 54/55 cases with low ones were negative for carcinoma (98%). Mesotheliomas, lymphomas and leukemias had low NK%.

Conclusion: Using the Mann-Whitney U test, an increase in NK% predicts metastatic carcinoma with a P level of < .00001.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ascitic Fluid / immunology*
  • Carcinoma / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma / immunology*
  • Carcinoma / secondary
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / diagnosis
  • Pleural Effusion, Malignant / immunology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity