Is endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration with a stylet necessary for lymph node screening in lung cancer patients?

During endobronchial ultrasound-guided transbronchial needle aspiration (EBUS-TBNA), a needle is commonly used with a stylet, although recently the stylet has been omitted. This prospective study aimed to compare the quality of specimens obtained by EBUS-TBNA performed with and without a stylet. Between November 2013 and November 2014, 131 patients with lung cancer underwent EBUS-TBNA, with a total of 148 mediastinal or hilar lymph nodes sampled both with and without an inner-stylet, yielding 296 cytological specimens. Specimens were scored cytologically using five parameters: background blood or clot, amount of cellular material, degree of cellular degeneration, degree of cellular trauma, and retention of appropriate architecture. The procedure with a stylet required significantly longer operation time than without a stylet (14.5±0.8 vs 12.7±1.1 min, P<0.001). Excellent specimens were obtained in 261/296 and 260/296 samples in the procedures with and without a stylet, respectively (P=0.9), while the remaining 35 and 36 samples, respectively, were adequate. The diagnosing and staging of lung cancer using EBUS-TBNA did not differ significantly between the groups. In conclusion, specimen collection by EBUS-TBNA without a stylet is easier and faster than the procedure using a stylet and absence of a stylet did not alter specimen quality or diagnostic accuracy.