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The clinical diagnosis of asbestosis in this century requires more than a chest radiograph.

Chest 2003 September
Asbestosis can cause significant impairment and even death. It is also a well-recognized risk factor for the development of lung cancer. However, asbestosis is usually diagnosed on clinical grounds without the aid of pathology. Many physicians and researchers believe that in asbestos-exposed individuals with adequate latency, chest radiographic findings that are compatible with asbestosis are sufficient for the diagnosis. In order to determine whether this approach is reasonable, the positive predictive value of the chest radiograph for the diagnosis of pathologic asbestosis must be determined. This requires information about the prevalence of asbestosis, and the sensitivity and specificity of the chest radiograph in its diagnosis. In this article, the sensitivity and specificity of the chest radiograph in diagnosing asbestosis is determined from a literature analysis. The prevalence of asbestosis among present-day cohorts, such as construction workers and petrochemical workers, is assessed based on the relative risk of lung cancer in patients with asbestosis and the overall relative risk of lung cancer in these occupationally asbestos-exposed cohorts. The results indicate a positive predictive value for abnormal chest radiograph findings alone to be significantly < 50%. Therefore, the chest radiograph is inadequate as the sole clinical tool to be used to diagnose asbestosis in these cohorts. However, when rales and a low diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide are also present, the diagnosis of asbestosis on clinical grounds can be made with reasonable confidence.

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