Study objectives: The value of obtaining washings during fiberoptic bronchoscopy in the workup of lung cancer is controversial. Moreover, the optimal timing of washing relative to biopsy and brushing is not known. In this study, the diagnostic yields of washings before and after biopsy and brushings were compared. The different diagnostic strategies were assessed in terms of yield and costs.
Design: A prospective study performed from 2001 to 2003 in a secondary care medical center.
Measurements and results: Two hundred twenty-one patients underwent flexible bronchoscopy, and the diagnostic yield of washings before biopsy and brushing (strategy I) and after biopsy and brushing (strategy II) specimens were assessed. Using the known probabilities and costs for various bronchoscopic procedures, the expected utility of a number of diagnostic strategies was estimated. Patients (147 men and 74 women) were included in the study in whom a definite cytologic or histologic diagnosis of pulmonary malignancy had been made. The diagnostic yield of strategy I was 72% for visible tumors and 36% for nonvisible tumors. For strategy II, the diagnostic yield was 74% for visible tumors and in 42% for nonvisible tumors. The comparison of strategies I and II for both visible and nonvisible tumors revealed that 176 cases were concordant (80%); in 19 cases (9%) the cytologic analysis of washings in strategy I was positive for malignancy and negative in strategy II. In 26 cases (12%) washings in strategy II were positive and negative in strategy I (p = 0.37). An analysis of the diagnostic yield of both washings in visible tumors and nonvisible tumors showed no significant difference. In 13 patients, a diagnosis of malignancy was established only by washings (6%). Confining the laboratory investigations of washings or brush samples to those cases in which the initial findings of the biopsies are negative (the two-stage procedure) is more cost-effective than examining all biopsy, brushing, and washing specimens. In patients with visible tumors, brushing or washing in addition to biopsy is equally cost-effective; in patients with nonvisible tumors, biopsy combined with washing is the preferred option.
Conclusions: No difference in the diagnostic yield could be demonstrated for washings before or after biopsies and brushings. Although the additional diagnostic yield of washing and brushing during bronchoscopy is relatively low, it is cost-effective to use these procedures in the diagnostic workup of patients who are clinically suspected of having a pulmonary malignancy.