Thymic hyperplasia and thymus gland tumors: differentiation with chemical shift MR imaging

Radiology. 2007 Jun;243(3):869-76. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2433060797. Epub 2007 Apr 26.


Purpose: To prospectively evaluate chemical shift magnetic resonance (MR) imaging for differentiating thymic hyperplasia from tumors of the thymus gland.

Materials and methods: The institutional review board approved this study; informed consent was obtained and patient confidentiality was protected. The authors assessed 41 patients (17 male, 24 female; age range, 16-78 years) in whom thymic lesions were seen at chest computed tomography. Patients were assigned to a hyperplasia group (n=23) (18 patients with hyperplastic thymus associated with Graves disease and five with rebound thymic hyperplasia) and a tumor group (n=18) (seven patients with thymomas, four with invasive thymomas, five with thymic cancers, and two with malignant lymphomas). T2-weighted fast spin-echo and T1-weighted in-phase and opposed-phase MR images were obtained in all patients and visually assessed. A chemical shift ratio (CSR), determined by comparing the signal intensity of the thymus gland with that of the paraspinal muscle, was calculated for quantitative analysis. Mean CSRs for the patient groups and subgroups were analyzed by using Welch t and Newman-Keuls tests. P<.05 indicated a significant difference.

Results: The thymus gland had homogeneous signal intensity in all 23 patients in the hyperplasia group and in 12 of the 18 patients in the tumor group. The mean CSR (+/- standard deviation) was 0.614 +/- 0.130 in the hyperplasia group and 1.026 +/- 0.039 in the tumor group. Mean CSRs in the patients with a hyperplastic thymus and Graves disease, rebound thymic hyperplasia, thymoma, invasive thymoma, thymic cancer, and malignant lymphoma were 0.594 +/- 0.120, 0.688 +/- 0.154, 1.033 +/- 0.043, 1.036 +/- 0.040, 1.020 +/- 0.044, and 0.997 +/- 0.010, respectively. The difference in CSR between the hyperplasia and tumor groups was significant (P<.001). Mean CSRs in the hyperplasia subgroups were lower than those in the tumor subgroups (P<.001). All hyperplasia group patients had an apparent decrease in thymus gland signal intensity at chemical shift MR imaging; no tumor group patients had a decrease in thymus gland signal intensity.

Conclusion: Chemical shift MR imaging can be used to differentiate thymic hyperplasia from thymic tumors.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thymus Gland / pathology*
  • Thymus Hyperplasia / diagnosis*
  • Thymus Neoplasms / diagnosis*