Study objectives: The aim of our study was to compare the diagnostic yield of two bronchoscopic procedures: endobronchial ultrasound-driven transbronchial biopsy (EBUS-TBB) and transbronchial biopsy (TBB) in peripheral pulmonary lesions.
Design: Prospective, randomized, blinded study.
Setting: University Hospital of Rome, Italy.
Patients and methods: We examined 799 patients with peripheral lung lesions using bronchoscopy. Patients who could undergo a complete clinical diagnostic follow-up (n = 293) were enrolled in the study and randomly assigned to EBUS-TBB or TBB. We performed these two procedures on 221 patients (97 EBUS-TBB and 124 TBB). Patients in whom biopsies were not diagnostic underwent more invasive procedures to obtain a final diagnosis, and a complete follow-up was possible in 206 patients (87 EBUS-TBB and 119 TBB).
Results: Lung cancer was diagnosed in 61 patients in the EBUS-TBB group and in 83 patients in the TBB group. Pulmonary diseases other than cancer were diagnosed in 26 patients and 36 patients, respectively. For patients with lung cancer, sensitivity was 0.79 in the EBUS group and 0.55 in the TBB group (p = 0.004), and accuracy was 0.85 and 0.69, respectively (p = 0.007). The analysis of a subset of patients with lesions > 3 cm showed no significant difference in diagnostic ability between the two procedures. In lesions < 3 cm, we found a considerable decline in TBB sensitivity and accuracy (0.31 and 0.50) while EBUS-TBB maintained their diagnostic yield (0.75 and 0.83) [p = 0.0002 and p = 0.001, respectively]. A similar difference was observed when we compared the sensitivity of the two procedures in lesions < 2 cm (0.23 vs 0.71, p < 0.001).
Conclusions: EBUS-TBB can be an important option in the early diagnosis of peripheral lung cancer, especially in small-sized lesions and in patients who are not eligible for surgery.