Background: Although there have been two reports suggesting that it is not necessary to obtain chest radiographs of all children with cancer who are hospitalized for fever and neutropenia, this practice continues.
Methods: Fifty-four children with cancer who were hospitalized for 108 episodes of fever and neutropenia were followed prospectively. Data on their respiratory signs and symptoms were collected on admission and throughout their hospital course. Chest radiographs were obtained at the discretion of the pediatric oncology attending physician and were interpreted by a pediatric radiologist.
Results: Pneumonia was documented by chest radiograph in 4 of the 108 episodes (3.7%) of fever and neutropenia. In 10 of the 108 episodes, the children had abnormal respiratory findings; this group included the 4 children with pneumonia documented by chest X-ray examination. None of the children with normal respiratory findings hospitalized for the remaining 98 episodes had pneumonia. Chest radiographs were not obtained for 40 of the 108 episodes of fever and neutropenia. None of the children with these 40 episodes had respiratory abnormalities and all recovered without a problem. Chest radiographs were obtained for the remaining 68 episodes of fever and neutropenia. Of the four children in this group with pneumonia documented by chest X-ray, two were diagnosed on admission, and another two whose initial radiographs were normal developed pneumonia later in their hospital course. There were no differences in age, absolute neutrophil count, temperature at presentation, or type of malignancy between the children who had chest radiographs and the children who did not.
Conclusions: Pneumonia is an uncommon cause of infection in children with cancer hospitalized for fever and neutropenia. Therefore, the authors believe it is not necessary to obtain a chest radiograph in children with no respiratory abnormalities who are hospitalized for fever and neutropenia. [See editorial on pages 1009-10, this issue.]