Introduction: Blind percutaneous pleural biopsy has traditionally been performed to investigate the etiology of exudative pleural effusion in which the initial thoracentesis has been nondiagnostic. In view of the increasing use of image-guided and thoracoscopic pleural biopsies, this study examines the role of blind Abrams pleural biopsy in the investigation of pleural effusion in a large urban hospital.
Method: Patients undergoing blind Abrams needle biopsy between January 1997 and 2003 were identified from the hospital pathology database. The case notes and pathology records of these patients were analyzed retrospectively. All patients had presented to respiratory teams with an exudative pleural effusion and had initial nondiagnostic thoracentesis.
Results: Seventy-five patients undergoing blind biopsy were identified. Pleural tissue was obtained in 59 biopsies (79%), with no statistically significant difference in pleural yield between respiratory specialist registrars (equivalent to pulmonary fellows in training) and senior house officers/preregistration house officers (equivalent to junior residents and interns, respectively) performing the biopsy (χ2 test, p = 0.43). When up to three samples were obtained per episode, sufficient pleural tissue was obtained in 18 of 25 patients (72%) compared to 80% (32 of 40 patients) in whom four to six samples were taken (χ2 test, p = 0.55 [not significant]). For all diagnoses, blind biopsy had a sensitivity of 38%, which rose to 43% when reviewing patients in whom sufficient pleural tissue was obtained (for malignant diagnosis alone, sensitivity values were 43% and 51%, respectively; specificity, 100%; negative and positive predictive values, 51%). No fatalities were reported, and pneumothorax was seen in eight patients (11%), with only two patients requiring specific intervention.
Conclusions: Blind Abrams needle biopsy obtaining pleural tissue was diagnostic in approximately 50% of patients presenting with malignant effusion in the sample, and can be performed safely by all grades of medical staff with due attention to technique and supervision. The data support the continued use of the Abrams needle in the investigation of malignant pleural disease.