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Accuracy of ultrasound in the characterization of superficial soft tissue tumors: a prospective study.

OBJECTIVE: To prospectively evaluate the accuracy of ultrasound in defining the specific nature of superficial soft tissue masses as well as determining malignancy.

MATERIALS AND METHOD: Eight hundred twenty-three superficial soft tissue masses were prospectively evaluated with ultrasound by one of five experienced musculoskeletal radiologists. The radiologist at the time of examination provided one to three specific differential diagnoses and the perceived level of confidence with regard to each diagnosis. Clinical and ultrasound diagnoses were compared with the histological diagnosis to determine accuracy. Tumor malignancy was determined by histology or clinical/imaging follow-up.

RESULTS: Histological correlation was present for 219 (26.6%) of the 823 masses. Compared with histology, the accuracy of clinical and ultrasound examination for determining specific tumor type was 25.6% and 81.2% respectively considering all differential diagnoses provided. Radiologists were "fully confident" with the ultrasound diagnosis in 585 (71.1%) of 823 masses overall. In this setting, when compared with histology, the diagnostic accuracy of ultrasound was 95.5%. When the radiologist was "not fully confident," accuracy was 41.3% for the first differential diagnosis and 60.9% for all differential diagnoses. Diagnostic accuracy improved with increasing radiologist experience. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of ultrasound for identifying malignant tumor were 93.3%, 97.9%, 45.2%, and 99.9% respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: One can be "fully confident" at characterizing over two-thirds of superficial soft tissue masses based on ultrasound appearances and, in this setting, diagnostic accuracy is very high. Ultrasound examination is also highly accurate at discriminating benign from malignant superficial soft tissue masses.

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