BACKGROUND--Aneuploidy appears to be a highly specific marker for cancer, and measurement of cellular DNA content by flow cytometry is rapid and reliable. This study was undertaken to determine if the addition of DNA analysis improved the sensitivity of cytological diagnosis of malignancy in pleural fluid. METHODS--Pleural effusions from 92 patients were studied by cytological examination and flow cytometry. RESULTS--In 41 patients the final diagnosis was malignancy, there were 40 cases of benign effusions including 22 with pleural tuberculosis, and in the remaining 11 patients with biopsy proven cancer the presence of malignant cells was not found by cytological and histological means in the pleural fluid. Aneuploidy and cytological malignancy were found in 14 samples. There were seven cases with abnormal flow cytometry and negative cytological results. In 12 patients the cytological test results were positive but DNA analysis was normal. Thirty six samples of fluid were both diploid and cytologically negative. Of the 22 tuberculous effusions seven contained aneuploid cells. The sensitivity of DNA and cytological analysis was 51.2% and 63.4%, respectively. The specificity of DNA analysis was 74.5%. CONCLUSIONS--DNA analysis of cells in malignant pleural effusions is both less sensitive and specific than the cytological diagnosis. Flow cytometric analysis is not recommended for routine use in the diagnosis of pleural effusions.
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