Diagnostic accuracy of subcutaneous abdominal fat tissue aspiration for detecting systemic amyloidosis and its utility in clinical practice




Aspiration of subcutaneous abdominal fat is a simple and fast method for detecting systemic amyloidosis; however, the sensitivity of this approach remains undetermined. The aim of this study was to assess the accuracy of fat tissue aspiration for detecting systemic amyloidosis and the utility of this method in clinical practice.


All consecutive patients with established and suspected systemic amyloidosis who attended our tertiary referral hospital between 1994 and 2004 underwent aspiration of subcutaneous abdominal fat. Congo red–stained tissue was assessed quickly in a single smear in a routine manner by a single observer, and was also assessed thoroughly in 3 smears by 2 independent observers.


One hundred twenty patients with established systemic amyloidosis were studied (38 with AA amyloidosis, 70 with AL amyloidosis, and 12 with ATTR amyloidosis). Routine (quick) assessment was associated with a sensitivity of 80% (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 72–87%). Sensitivity increased to 93% (95% CI 87–97%) when 3 smears were thoroughly examined. The specificity of fat aspiration in 45 control subjects was 100% (95% CI 92–100%). One hundred sixty-two patients for whom there was a clinical suspicion of systemic amyloidosis were screened for amyloidosis by fat tissue aspiration and biopsy of at least 1 other tissue. In 69 (43%) of these 162 patients, a diagnosis of amyloidosis was established, and in 66 (96%) of these patients, the results of fat tissue aspiration were positive. The clinical utility of fat tissue aspiration was greater than that of biopsy of the rectum.


Subcutaneous abdominal fat aspiration is the preferred method for detecting systemic amyloidosis, with sensitivity of 80% associated with use of a routine approach. The use of a thorough assessment (3 fat smears, 2 observers) increased sensitivity to >90%. If the results of fat tissue aspiration are negative, the additional value of a subsequent biopsy of the rectum is negligible.