Atypical pulmonary metastases: spectrum of radiologic findings

Radiographics. 2001 Mar-Apr;21(2):403-17. doi: 10.1148/radiographics.21.2.g01mr17403.


Typical radiologic findings of a pulmonary metastasis include multiple round variable-sized nodules and diffuse thickening of interstitium. In daily practice, however, atypical radiologic features of metastases are often encountered that make distinction of metastases from other nonmalignant pulmonary diseases difficult. A detailed knowledge of the atypical radiologic features of a pulmonary metastasis with a good understanding of the histopathologic background is essential for correct diagnosis. Squamous cell carcinoma is regarded as the most common cell type of a cavitating metastasis, but metastatic nodules from adenocarcinomas and sarcomas also cavitate occasionally. Calcification can occur in a metastatic sarcoma or adenocarcinoma, which makes differentiation from a benign granuloma or hamartoma difficult. Peritumoral hemorrhage results in areas of nodular attenuation surrounded by a halo of ground-glass opacity. Pneumothorax commonly occurs in metastases from an osteosarcoma. Air-space consolidation is often seen in cases of metastases from gastrointestinal tract malignancies. Even though tumor emboli in pulmonary arteries can be seen at computed tomography, diagnosis is difficult because they are located in small or medium arteries. A common radiologic appearance of an endobronchial metastasis is an atelectasis. In cases of an endobronchial or a solitary pulmonary metastasis, differentiation between bronchogenic carcinoma and metastasis is difficult. Dilated vascular structures within the mass can be seen in metastatic sarcomas. A sterilized metastasis after chemotherapy is radiologically indistinguishable from a residual viable tumor. Benign tumors such as uterine leiomyomas and giant cell tumors of the bone rarely metastasize to the lung.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Calcinosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Calcinosis / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary*
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumothorax / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*