Diagnosis of lung cancer: a necropsy-based study of 128 cases (1997-2016)

Lung Cancer

Tumori. 2020 Aug 18:300891620949665. doi: 10.1177/0300891620949665. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: The diagnosis of lung cancer (LC) may be difficult to make in the elderly. We report on the diagnostic elements available in life in an LC necropsy case series of asbestos-exposed workers and describe the frequency of non-neoplastic asbestos-related diseases as biological exposure indices.

METHODS: We reviewed pathologic and clinical records of an unselected series of autopsies (1997-2016) in patients with LC employed in the Monfalcone shipyards. We assessed the consistency with autopsy results of diagnoses based on, respectively, radiologic, cytologic, and histologic findings.

RESULTS: Data on 128 autopsy-confirmed LC cases were available; in life, 119 had been diagnosed as LC. Among these, 49 had histologic confirmation of diagnosis (17 with immunophenotyping); histology had been negative in 4. Cytology had been the main positive finding and the basis for diagnosis in 24 cases, but had been negative in 13. Chest computed tomography had been the basis for diagnosis in 45; in 18 cases, it had been negative. Nine patients had received a diagnosis different from LC, among whom 4 had been suspected to have malignant pleural mesothelioma by chest computed tomography. Pleural plaques were found in 124 and histologic asbestosis in 46 cases.

CONCLUSIONS: Autopsies confirmed all LC diagnoses received in life, including 46 that would have been considered only possible LC based on clinical workup. The overall survival in this case series was poor. The high prevalence of pleural plaques and asbestosis suggest severity of asbestos exposures.