Differential diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy and superior pulmonary sulcus tumor

Rui Gu, Ming-Yang Kang, Zhong-Li Gao, Jian-Wu Zhao, Jin-Cheng Wang
Chinese Medical Journal 2012, 125 (15): 2755-7

BACKGROUND: The result would be disastrous if the superior pulmonary sulcus tumor (Pancoast tumor) was misdiagnosed as degenerative cervical spine diseases. The aim of this study was to investigate the differential diagnosis methods of cervical radiculopathy and superior pulmonary sulcus tumor.

METHODS: Clinical manifestations, physical, and radiological findings of 10 patients, whose main complaints were radiating shoulder and arm pain and later were diagnosed with superior pulmonary sulcus tumor, were reviewed and compared with those of cervical radiculopathy.

RESULTS: Superior pulmonary sulcus tumor patients have shorter mean history and fewer complaints of neck pain or limitation of neck movement. Physical examination showed almost normal cervical spine range of motion. Spurling's neck compression test was negative in all patients. Anteroposterior cervical radiographs showed the lack of pulmonary air at the top of the affected lung in all cases and first rib encroachment in one case. The diagnosis of superior pulmonary sulcus tumor can be further confirmed by CT and MRI.

CONCLUSIONS: By the method of combination of history, physical examination, and radiological findings, superior pulmonary sulcus tumor can be efficiently differentiated from cervical radiculopathy. Normal motion range of the cervical spine, negative Spurling's neck compression test, and the lack of pulmonary air at the top of the affected lung in anteroposterior cervical radiographs should be considered as indications for further chest radiograph examinations.

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