Incidence of unusual and clinically significant histopathological findings in routine discectomy

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Routine histopathological examination of discectomy specimens remains common practice in many hospitals, although it rarely detects unsuspected clinically significant disease. Controversy exists as to the effectiveness of this practice. The objectives of this study were to compare the authors’ experience with a review of the literature.


In a retrospective database analysis the authors identified all intervertebral disc specimens obtained during spinal procedures over an 8-year period (1996–2004). Cases of benign (nonneoplastic and noninfectious) indications for surgery were included in the study, whereas cases of nonbenign indications were excluded. The final pathological diagnoses were reviewed, and a chart review was performed to determine whether any unexpected findings affected subsequent patient care. A total of 1858 discectomy specimens were identified: 1775 of these were obtained in 1719 routine discectomy procedures. Unexpected histopathological findings were identified in four cases, and none was clinically significant.


Routine histopathological examination of disc specimens is not justified. The decision to send specimens for pathological examination should be determined on a case-by-case basis after consideration of the clinical presentation, results of laboratory and imaging studies, and intraoperative findings.

Abbreviations used in this paper:DDD = degenerative disc disease; MR = magnetic resonance.

Article Information

Address reprint requests to: Daryl R. Fourney, M.D., F.R.C.S.(C), Division of Neurosurgery, University of Saskatchewan, Royal University Hospital, 103 Hospital Drive, Saskatoon, Saskatche-wan S7N 0W8, Canada. email:

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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