The accuracy of diagnosis in 656 patients with the four common histopathological types of primary lung cancer has been assessed by comparing the cell type diagnosis made on cytological and histological investigation with that determined by examination of the surgically resected or necroscopy specimen. The accuracy of diagnosis achieved by cytological examination of sputum and bronchial aspirate, and by bronchial biopsy histology was over 85%. The least accurate diagnostic procedure was percutaneous needle biopsy (62%). Squamous and small cell tumours were accurately diagnosed by all four investigations but errors were made in the diagnosis of large cell and adenocarcinomas. Nearly half the number of patients (43%) with large cell carcinoma were later reclassified as having squamous carcinoma and of the patients with adenocarcinoma 32% had been predicted to be squamous and 18% large cell carcinoma. We consider such quality control of pretreatment diagnosis mandatory in management of individual patients and before enrollment in clinical trials.
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