Also, people so frail that they couldn't withstand lung cancer treatment should not have a biopsy, Wiener said.
For the study, published in the Aug. 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Wiener's team reviewed data on 15,865 adults who underwent a lung biopsy.
Of the 1 percent who experienced bleeding as a result of the procedure, 17.8 percent needed a blood transfusion, they found.
Lung collapse, a condition called a pneumothorax, occurred in 15 percent of the patients.
Of that group, 6.6 percent needed a chest tube to expand the lung and a longer hospital stay. These patients were also more likely to develop respiratory failure that required mechanical ventilation, the researchers found.
Complications during biopsy were more common among older patients, smokers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the researchers said.
Dr. Norman H. Edelman, a professor of preventive medicine, internal medicine, physiology and biophysics at Stony Brook University in New York and chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, said the "the findings are especially relevant" in light of the National Cancer Institute lung cancer screening trial.
"In all likelihood, the Institute's findings will result in the identification of many more pulmonary nodules, which physicians will have to evaluate," he said.
Typically, doctors must choose between careful watching with subsequent CT scans and early biopsy. "The current report should be helpful to physicians in making a 'real world' risk-versus-benefit analysis between the two approaches," Edelman said.
Edelman also said the regional variation in use of needle lung biopsy invites examination. (The data showed a rate of 14.7 per 100,000 adults in New York compared to 36.2 per 100,000 adults in Florida.)
"If we are to be rational about resource utilization, we must solve the question of whether some regions do too f
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