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Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2018 Sep;24(9):1861-1865. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2018.05.030. Epub 2018 Jun 9.

Utility of Autopsy among Pediatric Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Recipients: One Last Chance to Learn?

Author information

Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. Electronic address:
Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Division of Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.
Department of Pathology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Department of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois.


Autopsy may confirm clinical diagnoses or identify conditions that were not suspected prior to a patient's death. Previous studies evaluating the utility of autopsy in hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) recipients yielded conflicting results. We conducted a retrospective cohort study of children (<18 years of age) undergoing allogeneic HSCT at Duke University who died of any cause between January 1, 1995, and December 31, 2016. We evaluated associations between patient characteristics and autopsy performance using chi-square or Fisher exact tests. We reviewed autopsy reports to determine the concordance between preautopsy causes of death and pathological diagnoses identified on autopsy. We classified unexpected diagnoses on autopsy using criteria developed by Goldman et al. We evaluated for temporal changes in the autopsy consent rate and the frequency of unexpected diagnoses on autopsy using Cochran-Armitage tests. During the 22-year study period, 475 patients died and had data available on autopsy performance, and 130 (27%) of these patients underwent autopsy. The autopsy consent rate declined over time (P < .0001), with autopsies being performed for 40% of deaths in 1995 to 1999 and 17% of deaths in 2009 to 2016. White patients were more likely to undergo autopsy than nonwhite patients (P = .03). There were no associations between autopsy performance and patient age, sex, HSCT indication, or HSCT donor. Unexpected diagnoses were identified in 31 (24%) autopsies. The proportion of autopsies with an unexpected diagnosis did not change during the study period (P = .45). However, infectious diagnoses that would have led to a change in management were more frequently identified on autopsies in 1995 to 2003 than in 2004 to 2016 (20% versus 0%; P = .001). The autopsy consent rate for pediatric HSCT recipients at our institution has declined substantially over the past several decades. The utility of autopsy in this patient population remains high despite a reduction in the identification of unexpected infections.


Autopsy; Children; Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

[Available on 2019-09-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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