An investigation into the problem of the frequency and hazards of lung biopsy in asbestos workers was performed in two ways. The first study was into the frequency of lung biopsy among 2907 long term asbestos insulation workers in 1981-3 and the second was into the frequency of fatal complications of lung biopsy in 168 deaths from asbestosis among 2271 consecutive deaths of asbestos insulation workers 1967-76. Only 25 (0.9%) of the 2907 asbestos insulation workers reported having had either an open lung biopsy, a needle biopsy, or a transbronchial biopsy. Seven (24%) of these men suffered difficulties as a result of the biopsy. Lung biopsies had been performed on 14 of the 168 workers who died of asbestosis. Three (21%) of these 14 patients had died within 30 days of biopsy as a direct result of the procedure. In most cases there is no need for lung biopsy to establish a diagnosis of asbestosis; generally, it may be defined by history of exposure, clinical and radiological findings, and other well established non-invasive diagnostic procedures. Certainly, legal and compensation recommendation for biopsy should be considered with the possibility of death in mind. If biopsy is performed precautions should be taken, including adequate observation in hospital.
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