In lung transplant recipients, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) is mainly performed to detect infectious agents. However, in addition to microorganisms, epithelial cell atypia may be identified, and determination of its significance is necessary. Specimens obtained at BAL in lung and heart-lung transplant recipients (LTRs) between 1991 and 1998 were examined for the presence of significant cytologic atypia in epithelial cells. Ten cases in 9 patients were identified, and these composed the core of our study. These transplant BAL specimens were compared with 4 BAL specimens with carcinoma from non–transplant patients (NTPs). Fourteen cytologic parameters were evaluated, and clinical and biopsy correlation was made in each case. Significant overlap in cytologic features, including background cellularity, number of atypical cell clusters, number of cells in each cluster, size of cell clusters, contour of clusters, 3-dimensionality, tenacious intercytoplasmic connections, multinucleation, nuclear size, nuclear/cytoplasmic ratio, nuclear membrane irregularity, chromatin pattern, intranuclear inclusions, and nucleolar characteristics, was observed between atypical LTR cases and NTP carcinoma cases. Clinically, all LTR cases derived from nonneoplastic conditions including harvest injury (diffuse alveolar damage), acute cellular rejection, and infections. Our study results show that evaluation of cytologic features alone does not permit differentiation of atypical cells found in nonneoplastic conditions from those in malignant conditions. Clinical and histologic correlation and awareness of the range of atypia seen in posttransplant syndromes is important in correct interpretation of these cases.

Author notes

This work was supported by the Pathology Education and Research Foundation, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA.