Interstitial lung disease: the diagnostic role of bronchoscopy
Interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) form one of the most fascinating fields in pulmonary medicine. They also pose one of the greatest challenges for accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Even within the recommended and warranted multidisciplinary approach, differentiating between one disease and another may lead to frustration, especially when proper lung tissue is not available for adequate pathological review. A surgical lung biopsy (SLB) might render enough tissue for histopathology, but this could come at the expense of high morbidity and even mortality, as in the case of usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP). Could bronchoscopy and its various techniques offer a safer and higher yield alternative? Since the very late 19th century, efforts have been made to better examine the airways, obtain tissue and treat various conditions. This resulted in the successive emergence of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), endobronchial and transbronchial forceps biopsies, until recently when transbronchial cryobiopsy surfaced as a nascent technique with much promise. The use of endobronchial ultrasound revolutionized the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer, while adding to the yield of other conditions such as sarcoidosis. Ongoing research, efforts and studies have continuously scrutinized the roles of various techniques in the approach to ILDs. For example, BAL seems to serve mostly to eliminate infection as an etiology or a complicating factor in the acute worsening of a fibrotic lung disease, while a predominant cellular component might be diagnostic, such as eosinophilia in eosinophilic lung disease, or lymphocytosis in hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). On the other hand, endobronchial biopsy’s (EBB) role appears limited to sarcoidosis. As for transbronchial biopsy by forceps, the small sample size and related artifact appear to be limiting factors in making an accurate diagnosis. Recently, however, the use of cryotherapy via employing a cryoprobe in obtaining transbronchial lung biopsies is unfolding into a refined interventional method which might transform indefinitely our approach to the pathological diagnosis of the various ILDs.