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BACKGROUND: Over 200000 pleural effusions are attributable to cancer in the UK and USA every year. Cytological examination of pleural fluid classifies about 60% of malignant effusions. Pleural biopsy needs to be done in the remaining cases. We aimed to assess whether CT-guided biopsy is an improvement over standard pleural biopsy in this setting. METHODS: 50 consecutive patients with cytologically negative suspected malignant pleural effusions were recruited. All had a contrast-enhanced thoracic CT scan to assess pleural thickening. Patients were randomly allocated, stratified by baseline pleural thickening, to either Abrams' pleural biopsy (standard care; n=25) or CT-guided cutting needle biopsy (n=25). Sensitivity for pleural malignancy from the biopsy specimen was the primary endpoint, with the patient's clinical outcome after 1 year being the diagnostic gold standard. Analysis was per protocol. FINDINGS: Three patients did not undergo biopsy. Abrams' biopsy correctly diagnosed malignancy in eight of 17 patients (sensitivity 47%, specificity 100%, negative predictive value 44%, positive predictive value 100%). CT-guided biopsy correctly diagnosed malignancy in 13 of 15 (sensitivity 87%, specificity 100%, negative predictive value 80%, positive predictive value 100%; difference in sensitivity between Abrams' and CT-guided 40%, 95% CI 10-69, p=0.02). Diagnostic advantage was similar in patients proving to have mesothelioma. INTERPRETATION: Primary use of CT-guided biopsy would avoid doing at least one Abrams' biopsy for every 2.5 CT-guided biopsies undertaken. In cytology-negative suspected malignant pleural effusions, CT-guided pleural biopsy is a better diagnostic test than Abrams' pleural biopsy.


Journal article



Publication Date





1326 - 1330


Adenocarcinoma, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Biopsy, Needle, Carcinoma, Diagnosis, Differential, England, Female, Humans, Male, Mesothelioma, Middle Aged, Pleural Effusion, Malignant, Pleural Neoplasms, Prospective Studies, Sensitivity and Specificity, Surgery, Computer-Assisted, Tomography, X-Ray Computed