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J Bras Pneumol. 2012 Mar-Apr;38(2):181-7.

Differentiating between tuberculosis-related and lymphoma-related lymphocytic pleural effusions by measuring clinical and laboratory variables: is it possible?

[Article in English, Portuguese]

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  • 1Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil.



To describe clinical and laboratory characteristics in patients with tuberculosis-related or lymphoma-related lymphocytic pleural effusions, in order to identify the variables that might contribute to differentiating between these diseases.


This was a retrospective study involving 159 adult HIV-negative patients with tuberculosis-related or lymphoma-related lymphocytic effusions (130 and 29 patients, respectively), treated between October of 2008 and March of 2010 at the Pleural Diseases Outpatient Clinic of the University of São Paulo School of Medicine Hospital das Clínicas Heart Institute, in the city of São Paulo, Brazil.


Mean age and the mean duration of symptoms were lower in the tuberculosis group than in the lymphoma group. The levels of proteins, albumin, cholesterol, amylase, and adenosine deaminase (ADA) in pleural fluid, as well as the serum levels of proteins, albumin, and amylase, were higher in the tuberculosis group, whereas serum cholesterol and triglycerides were higher in the lymphoma group. Pleural fluid leukocyte and lymphocyte counts were higher in the tuberculosis group. Of the tuberculosis group patients, none showed malignant cells; however, 4 showed atypical lymphocytes. Among the lymphoma group patients, cytology for neoplastic cells was positive, suspicious, and negative in 51.8%, 24.1%, and 24.1%, respectively. Immunophenotyping of pleural fluid was conclusive in most of the lymphoma patients.


Our results demonstrate clinical and laboratory similarities among the patients with tuberculosis or lymphoma. Although protein and ADA levels in pleural fluid tended to be higher in the tuberculosis group than in the lymphoma group, even these variables showed an overlap. However, none of the tuberculosis group patients had pleural fluid ADA levels below the 40-U/L cut-off point.

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