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Adrenal wash-out CT: moderate diagnostic value in distinguishing benign from malignant adrenal masses.

OBJECTIVE: Reliable results of wash-out CT in the diagnostic workup of adrenal incidentalomas are scarce. Thus, we evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of delayed wash-out CT and determined thresholds to accurately differentiate adrenal masses.

DESIGN: Retrospective, single-center cohort study including 216 patients with 252 adrenal lesions who underwent delayed wash-out CT. Definitive diagnoses based on histopathology (n = 92) or comprehensive follow-up.

METHODS: Size, average attenuation values of the adrenal lesions in all CT scan phases, and absolute and relative percentage wash-out (APW/RPW) were determined by an expert radiologist blinded for clinical data. Adrenal lesions with unenhanced attenuation values >10 Hounsfield units (HU) built a subgroup (n = 142). Diagnostic accuracy was calculated.

RESULTS: The study group consisted of 171 adenomas, 32 other benign tumors, 11 pheochromocytomas, 9 adrenocortical carcinomas, and 29 other malignant tumors. All (potentially) malignant and 46% of benign lesions showed unenhanced attenuation values >10 HU. In this most relevant subgroup, the established thresholds of 60% for APW and 40% for RPW misclassified 35.9 and 35.2% of the masses, respectively. When we applied optimized cutoffs (APW >83%; RPW >58%) and excluded pheochromocytomas, we missed only one malignant tumor by APW and none by RPW. However, only 11 and 15% of the benign tumors were correctly identified.

CONCLUSIONS: Wash-out CT with the established thresholds for APW and RPW is insufficient to reliably diagnose adrenal masses. Using the proposed cutoff of 58% for RPW, malignant tumors will be correctly identified, but the added value is limited, namely 15% of patients with benign tumors can be prevented from additional imaging or even unnecessary surgery.

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