Study objective: To determine whether persons with asymptomatic bilateral hilar lymphadenopathy (ABHL) and normal results of a physical examination should be observed with a presumptive diagnosis of stage 1 sarcoidosis (SIS) (ABHLps), its most frequent cause, or undergo mediastinoscopy to avoid overlooking an alternative diagnosis (AD) requiring treatment.
Design: We surveyed the English-language medical literature to estimate the proportion of persons with tuberculosis (TB), Hodgkin's disease (HD), and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) who present with ABHL and calculated the number of mediastinoscopies required to identify each AD by computing the following ratio: incidence SIS/incidence of each AD presenting as ABHL (ISIS/IABHL-AD). Risks of mediastinoscopy and benefits of earlier ascertainment of AD were derived from the published literature. Cost estimates were based on institutional charges. We conducted a regional survey of practicing pulmonologists to ascertain their diagnostic preferences.
Results: We estimate that if 33,000 persons with ABHL underwent mediastinoscopy, 32,982 (99.95%) would be found to have SIS or, very rarely, a disorder not requiring intervention; 407 would require hospitalization for complications at a cost in excess of $1 million; and 204 would experience major morbidity; 8 persons with TB, 9 with HD, and 1 with NHL would be identified at a cost of $100 to $200 million. The benefit for persons diagnosed as having AD would be minimal and likely offset by the procedural mortality. Seventy percent of pulmonologists responding to the survey favored observation over transbronchial lung biopsy or mediastinoscopy in patients with ABHL.
Conclusion: A policy of continued observation of patients presenting with ABHL is preferable to diagnostic mediastinoscopy from both the risk/benefit and cost/benefit standpoint.