Falling rates of perinatal postmortem examination: Are we to blame?

Christus St. Michaels' Hospital, 텍사캐나, Arkansas, United States
Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition (Impact Factor: 3.12). 12/2006; 91(6):F465. DOI: 10.1136/adc.2005.091314
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    ABSTRACT: To review the frequency of autopsy following pregnancy termination for fetal anomaly and its contribution to subsequent counselling. All medical pregnancy terminations for fetal anomaly performed after 14 weeks gestation from January 1997 to December 2006 were identified and the frequency of autopsy ascertained. The prenatal diagnosis prompting the termination was then compared with the autopsy data, and a diagnostic valuation was determined. The potential autopsy value ranged from no additional information provided, minor added value, significant added value, major added value to non-confirmation of the prenatal findings. During the ten-year study period, there were 1012 consecutive terminations for fetal abnormality. The principal indications for termination were: karyotypic (38.4%); neural tube defects (16.1%); cardiac (10.3%) and cerebral anomalies (7.5%). Autopsy was performed in 809 cases (79.9%). The autopsy rate progressively declined from 95.1% in 1997 to 67.5% in 2006 (P<0.001). Women declining autopsy were older (31 years (26,35) vs 32 years (27,37), P=0.005) and more likely to have a fetal chromosomal abnormality (30.6% vs 69.9%, P<0.001) (autopsy vs no-autopsy). In euploid cases, autopsy confirmed the prenatal diagnosis with no additional information in 63.5% (357 of 562). In 1.1% (six cases), autopsy added major diagnostic information, and in 15.1% (85 cases), significant information was provided. Although contemporary prenatal testing has improved the recognition of fetal abnormalities, autopsy remains a valued tool by providing diagnosis or clarification of some prenatal findings in 16% of cases. Fetal autopsy rates are declining and this trend may lead to a loss of diagnostic and recurrence risk-counselling information.
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    ABSTRACT: Autopsy is an important investigation following fetal death or termination for fetal abnormality. Postmortem magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide macroscopic information of comparable quality to that of conventional autopsy in the event of perinatal death. It does not provide tissue for histological examination, which may limit the quality of counseling for recurrence risks and elucidation of the cause of death. We sought to examine the comparability and clinical value of a combination of postmortem MRI and percutaneous fetal organ biopsies (minimally invasive autopsy (MIA)) with conventional fetal autopsy. Forty-four fetuses underwent postmortem MRI and attempted percutaneous biopsy (using surface landmarks) of major fetal organs (liver, lung, heart, spleen, kidney, adrenal and thymus) following fetal death or termination for abnormality, prior to conventional autopsy, which was considered the 'gold standard'. We compared significant findings of the two examinations for both diagnostic information and clinical significance. Ancillary investigations (such as radiographs and placental histology) were regarded as common to the two forms of autopsy. In 21 cases conventional autopsy provided superior diagnostic information to that of MIA. In two cases the MIA provided superior diagnostic information to that of conventional autopsy, when autolysis prevented detailed examination of the fetal brain. In the remaining 21 cases, conventional autopsy and MIA provided equivalent diagnostic information. With regard to clinical significance, however, in 32 (72.7%) cases, the MIA provided information of at least equivalent clinical significance to that of conventional autopsy. In no case did the addition of percutaneous biopsies reveal information of additional clinical significance. Although in some cases MRI may provide additional information, conventional perinatal autopsy remains the gold standard for the investigation of fetal death. The utility of adding percutaneous organ biopsies, without imaging guidance, to an MRI-based fetal autopsy remains unproven. Postmortem MRI, combined with ancillary investigations such as placental histology, external examination by a pathologist, cytogenetics and plain radiography provided information of equivalent clinical significance in the majority of cases.
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