Background: The optimal management strategy for patients sustaining penetrating neck injury without an urgent indication for operative exploration remains controversial. The objective of this study was to prospectively assess multislice helical computed tomography angiography (MCTA) as a stand alone screening modality for the initial evaluation of hemodynamically stable patients with penetrating neck injuries. Our hypothesis was that MCTA is a sensitive diagnostic screening test that could noninvasively evaluate the vascular and aerodigestive structures of the neck.
Methods: After Institutional Review Board approval, all penetrating neck injuries assessed during a 16-month period were prospectively evaluated at a Level I trauma center. Patients without an indication for urgent neck exploration underwent MCTA screening. MCTA accuracy was tested against an aggregate gold standard of final diagnosis encompassing all imaging, surgical procedures and clinical follow-up obtained.
Results: In all, 106 injuries penetrated the platysma; 15 required urgent exploration and 91 underwent MCTA (34 gunshot wounds/57 stab wounds). Nineteen external wounds were in zone 1, 39 were in zone 2, 10 in zone 3, and 23 traversed multiple zones. MCTA was nondiagnostic in 2.2% secondary to artifact from retained missile fragments. Follow-up was achieved in 84.5% of patients for a mean of 33.3 days (range: 2-150). MCTA achieved 100% sensitivity and 93.5% specificity in detecting all vascular and aerodigestive injuries sustained. MCTA correctly identified two tracheal and two carotid artery injuries requiring operative or endovascular repair in asymptomatic patients. No injuries requiring intervention were missed by MCTA.
Conclusion: In the initial evaluation of stable penetrating neck injuries, MCTA appears to be a sensitive and safe screening modality. Further investigation is warranted.