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J Neurosurg. 1998 Sep;89(3):378-81.

Cost-benefit value of microscopic examination of intervertebral discs.

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  • 1School of Health Sciences, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15282-0001, USA.



Given the virtual absence of histologically detected, clinically unsuspected disease in intervertebral disc specimens, some authors have advocated that histological examination be discontinued. However, the examination of intervertebral disc specimens remains common practice in most pathology laboratories. No cost-benefit analysis of this practice has been made; therefore, the authors' goal in this study was perform such an analysis.


Using the University of Iowa surgical pathology database, 1109 patients who had undergone a laminectomy were identified retrospectively. These cases were classified into four categories based on the patients' preoperative clinical diagnosis and final histopathological diagnosis: insignificant clinical diagnosis/insignificant pathological diagnosis (ICIP), significant clinical diagnosis/insignificant pathological diagnosis (SCIP), significant clinical diagnosis/significant pathological diagnosis (SCSP), and insignificant clinical diagnosis/significant pathological diagnosis (ICSP). A significant clinical diagnosis was defined as one other than a benign, noninfectious indication for laminectomy. A significant pathological diagnosis was a diagnosis other than degenerative changes. The cost-benefit value of performing a histological examination in cases with significant or insignificant clinical diagnoses was examined. The cases were classified as: 1068 ICIP, 17 SCIP, 21 SCSP, and three ICSP. On chart review, in all three cases of ICSP an epidural abscess was identified perioperatively and the subsequent histological diagnosis did not affect patient care. The costs per case of identifying a significant pathological diagnosis with a significant and an insignificant clinical diagnosis were $44.79 and $8811, respectively.


Histological examination of intervertebral disc specimens is cost beneficial only if there is a significant preoperative clinical diagnosis.

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