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Lung Cancer. 2005 Aug;49(2):187-91. Epub 2005 Apr 14.

High prevalence of occult endobronchial malignancy in high risk patients with moderate sputum atypia.

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University of Colorado Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO, USA.


Early stage radiographically occult lung cancer has a high cure rate, but comprises a small fraction of all lung cancer. Abnormal sputum cytology is one indication for bronchoscopy in patients with chest imaging that is not suspicious for lung cancer. While there is good evidence that sputum cytologic findings of carcinoma, carcinoma in situ or severe atypia predict high rates of diagnosis of lung cancer, less is known of the frequency in which lung cancer is diagnosed in bronchoscopies carried out for the indication of moderate sputum atypia. One small series, published in abstract form only, reported an 8% rate of diagnosis of lung cancer in subjects bronchoscoped for moderate atypia. We tested the hypothesis that moderate sputum atypia is an indicator of occult central airway cancer in a retrospective analysis of a group of high risk subjects, defined as current or former smokers with >30 pack-years tobacco smoking and airflow obstruction with moderate atypia sputum cytology. Seventy-nine such subjects with no evidence of malignancy on chest radiograph at the time bronchoscopy was scheduled underwent white light and autofluorescence bronchoscopy. Lung cancer was found in five subjects; three had invasive squamous cell carcinomas and two had carcinoma in situ. Seven additional subjects had severe dysplasia found on endobronchial biopsy. Moderate sputum atypia may be an important marker of risk for occult endobronchial malignancy in high risk subjects.

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