Pathologic evaluation of routine pediatric tonsillectomy specimens: Analysis of cost-effectiveness

Marc E. Nelson, T. J. Gernon, Joseph C. Taylor, Jonathan B. McHugh, Marc C. Thorne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective. Evaluate the utility and explore the cost-effectiveness of mandatory gross or pathologic analysis of routine tonsillectomy specimens in children. Study Design. Case series with chart review. Setting. Tertiary care children's hospital. Subjects and Methods. Retrospective case series of results of pathologic analysis of tonsillectomy specimens from all pediatric patients who underwent tonsillectomy between 1996 and 2008 (n = 5235). The results of pathologic evaluation of routine and nonroutine specimens were evaluated, and an economic analysis of alternative methods of specimen handling was performed. Results. Zero cases of unsuspected pathology were identified on planned gross specimen evaluation (n = 4186), resulting in an estimated prevalence of 0 to 0.00088 (95% confidence interval [CI]). Positive pathologic findings on microscopic analysis (n = 1066) were only identified in posttransplant patients (10/63; 95% CI, 0.079-0.27) and cases of surgeon suspicion (8/78; 0.045-0.19). No cases were identified among the 17 undergoing microscopic pathologic analysis on the basis of pathologist suspicion on gross evaluation (95% CI, 0-0.20). From an economic standpoint, microscopic evaluation of routine pediatric tonsillectomy specimens appears to be superior to gross evaluation but with an estimated cost of $766 500 per case of unsuspected lymphoma identified. Conclusions. This study identifies a very low prevalence of unsuspected pathology on gross pathologic analysis of routine tonsillectomy specimens in children. Exploration of the cost implications suggests that such a practice is not a cost-effective use of limited health care resources. Microscopic examination is appropriate for posttransplantation patients and in cases of surgeon suspicion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-783
Number of pages6
JournalOtolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Surgical
  • Tonsillectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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