Cold abscess of the chest wall: a surgical entity?

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Cold abscesses of the chest wall are rare tuberculous locations. Because of the resurgence of tuberculosis, this diagnosis must be considered more frequently.


During a 15-year period (1980 to 1995), 18 patients with one or more cold abscesses of the chest wall were managed in our department. Epidemiologic characteristics, indications, methods and results of operation, and pathogenesis of the abscesses were considered in this retrospective study.


Most of the patients were immigrant men. A previous history of tuberculosis was noted in 15 cases (83%). Six patients had concomitant active pulmonary tuberculosis. There was mostly a solitary lesion in the chest wall, the most frequent location being the rib shaft (60%). Before operation the diagnosis was confirmed only in 4 patients (by needle aspiration of the abscess) and presumed in 4 others: an antituberculous chemotherapy was therefore given preoperatively to 8 patients. One patient did not undergo operation after a favorable response to medical treatment. In the other patients, an operation was indicated because of lack of response in 5 patients and the absence of diagnosis in 12 patients. Adequate debridement and a postoperative antituberculous regimen were performed with recurrence prevention in mind. A follow-up was obtained in 11 of the 17 patients undergoing operation. The only patient who required a second operation because of a recurrence at the same location had refused the antituberculous therapy after the first surgical procedure. Locations of the abscesses, computed tomographic scan results, and histologic examinations are in favor of a lymph-borne dissemination of tubercle bacilli.


Because fine-needle aspiration remains an inaccurate diagnostic tool and antituberculous medical treatment is not always efficient, chest wall tuberculous cold abscesses remain in most cases a surgical entity.

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