Objective: To compare the identifiable pulmonary abnormalities on preoperative chest radiographs and CT scans with the histologic findings in patients requiring surgical intervention for recurrent or persistent pneumothoraces.
Materials and methods: Chest radiographs were reviewed retrospectively in 116 consecutive patients (aged 16 to 81 years) who had undergone thoracotomy for recurrent or persistent pneumothorax. CT scans were performed in 21 patients. Chest radiographs and CT scans were reviewed by two observers without knowledge of the histologic findings. All specimens were reviewed by a surgical pathologist.
Results: Seventy-nine (68%) patients had parenchymal abnormalities and five (4%) had pleural thickening evident on the radiograph. The most common radiographic abnormalities included apical bullae (n=51), apical scarring (n=17), and diffuse emphysema (n=9). Twenty of 21 (95%) CT scans demonstrated either a parenchymal or a pleural abnormality. CT demonstrated emphysema in four patients with normal radiographs, as well as additional findings in six patients with abnormal radiographs. Histologically, 74 patients had focal irregular emphysema, 26 had distal acinar emphysema, six had mixed emphysema, four had isolated bullae or blebs, two had mesothelioma, and one each had the following: metastatic angiosarcoma, subpleural fibrosis, congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation, and tuberculous pleuritis with inactive interstitial fibrosis and honeycombing.
Conclusion: Most patients with surgically treated pneumothorax have emphysema or an isolated bulla. Although these findings may not be apparent on the radiograph and seen on CT, this probably does not affect patient management. In most cases of pneumothorax related to other causes, findings consistent with the diagnosis can be seen on the radiograph.