The use of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry with selected ion monitoring detected tuberculostearic acid (TBSA) in 10 of 12 formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded nasopharyngeal and head and neck biopsy specimens from patients with confirmed tuberculosis and carcinoma, and in one of 50 control specimens (giving a sensitivity of 83% and a specificity of 98%). The two false negative cases had very small tissue fragments and the patient with a false positive result may have had pulmonary tuberculosis. Tuberculostearic acid (TBSA) was also detected in nine of 16 specimens from the head and neck region with non-caseating granulomas suspected, but not confirmed, to be tuberculosis. It is concluded that nasopharyngeal tuberculosis is relatively common in Hong Kong and should be considered when biopsy specimens show granulomas. The detection of TBSA in tissue biopsy specimens is a useful, rapid method for the diagnosis of tuberculosis and other mycobacterial infections, and can be conveniently performed within two days on formalin fixed and paraffin wax embedded material.
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