The thyroid and parathyroid glands. CT and MR imaging and correlation with pathology and clinical findings

A L Weber, G Randolph, F G Aksoy
Radiologic Clinics of North America 2000, 38 (5): 1105-29
Thyroid imaging approach is based on the preliminary clinical evaluation. Lesions that are smaller than 2 cm should be assessed with US, which is capable of discriminating masses as small as 2 mm and distinguishing solid from cystic nodules. US-guided FNAB provides tissue for cytologic examination of thyroid nodules. CT and MR imaging are indicated for larger tumors (greater than 3 cm diameter) that extend outside the gland to adjoining structures, including the mediastinum, and retropharyngeal region. Metastatic lymph nodes in the neck and invasion of the aerodigestive tract are also in the realm of CT and MR imaging. Thyroid nodules are categorized on scintigraphy as hot or cold nodules. Hot nodules are rarely malignant, whereas cold nodules have an incidence of 10% to 20% of malignancy. Calcifications (amorphous, globular, nodular, and linear) occur in adenomas and carcinomas and have no differential diagnostic features except for psammomatous calcifications, which are a pathognomonic finding in papillary carcinomas and a small percentage of medullary carcinomas. Papillary carcinoma is the most common malignant tumor (80%) followed by follicular (20% to 25%); medullary (5%); undifferentiated; anaplastic carcinomas (< 5%); lymphoma (5%); and metastases. Lymph node metastases are common in papillary carcinoma, 50% at presentation, and less common in follicular carcinomas. The metastatic nodes in papillary carcinoma may enhance markedly (hypervascular); show increased signal intensity on T1-weighted images (increased thyroglobulin content or hemorrhage); and reveal punctate calcifications. Localized invasion of the larynx, trachea, and esophagus occurs predominantly in papillary and follicular carcinomas; the incidence is less than 5%. Ectopic thyroid tissue may be encountered in the tongue (foramen cecum); along the midline between posterior tongue and isthmus of thyroid gland; lateral neck; mediastinum; and oral cavity. Goiter and malignant tumors, notably papillary carcinoma, may develop in ectopic thyroid tissue. Carcinomas may also arise in thyroglossal duct cysts, which develop from duct remnants between the foramen cecum and thyroid isthmus. Infectious disease of the thyroid gland is not common and the CT and MR imaging findings are similar as described under neck infection. Other types of inflammatory disorders including Hashimoto's thyroiditis, granulomatous thyroiditis, and Riedel's struma display no specific imaging features. Imaging studies may, however, be indicated to confirm a suspected clinical diagnosis and assess compromise of the airway (Riedel's struma). HPT is a clinical diagnosis in which hypercalcemia is the most important finding. Parathyroid hyperplasia, adenoma, and carcinoma represent underlying lesions. To relieve the patient's symptoms surgical extirpation is indicated. The surgical success rate without imaging is 95%. The indications for imaging studies vary but it is generally agreed that reoperation after a previous failed surgical attempt and suspicion of an ectopic parathyroid adenoma should be investigated by imaging. These consist of US, nuclear medicine studies, CT and MR imaging. US and technetium sestamibi scanning have the highest accuracy rate for localizing an adenomatous gland at and near the thyroid gland. Ectopic adenomas, particularly if they are located in the mediastinum, are preferrably investigated with CT and MR imaging with gadolinium and fat suppression. Carcinomas and parathyroid cysts are optimally evaluated by CT and MR imaging. On MR imaging adenomas are low in signal intensity on T1-weighted images, high in signal intensity on T2-weighted images, and enhance post introduction of gadolinium.

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