Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate the diagnostic efficacy and the clinical impact of scintigraphy combined with ultrasonography (USG) in the management of thyroid and parathyroid disorders in a large series of patients.
Methods: A total of 387 consecutive patients referred to the Nuclear Medicine Department of Hacettepe University in the period from January to September 2007 for investigating a thyroid (N. 339 patients: 232 females and 107 males, mean age+/-SD=48.9+/-13.6 years) or a parathyroid disease (N. 48 patients: 34 females and 14 males, mean age+/-SD=47.4+/-9.6 years) were prospectively evaluated, systematically performing both scintigraphy and USG in a single-day session. All the examinations were independently reviewed by two nuclear medicine physicians; in cases of discrepancy (3%) a final diagnosis was reached by consensus. For thyroid pathologies, USG results were considered to provide additional diagnostic information over scintigraphy: 1) if more nodules were identified; 2) if an irregular hyperactive area at scintigraphy suspicious for the presence of a nodule was clearly characterized at USG; 3) if a nodule missed at scintigraphy because of small size (<1 cm) was well depicted at USG, thus allowing an USG-guided fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) to reach a final diagnosis. For parathyroid pathologies, USG was considered to provide additional diagnostic information over scintigraphy if a low intensity radiotracer retention from the parathyroid suspected of being a parathyroid enlargement was clearly depicted at USG. In thyroid diseases, scintigraphy was considered to provide additional diagnostic information over USG, if the functional status of a diffuse or uni- or multi-nodular goiter were clearly defined at scintigraphy. In parathyroid diseases, scintigraphy was considered to provide additional diagnostic information over USG, if the differential diagnosis between a lymph node or a muscle or a vessel depicted at USG was clearly defined as a parathyroid enlargement at scintigraphy. Lastly, the clinical impact of the single-day combined scintigraphic/USG protocol was evaluated.
Results: USG. In the thyroid diseases group, USG was particularly useful: 1) to detect additional nodules in glands with suppressed thyroid tissue; 2) to disclose small thyroid nodules (<1 cm) in which it was possible to perform a USG-FNAC. In the parathyroid diseases group, USG was particularly useful for the detection of parathyroid enlargements not visualized at scintigraphy because characterized by a rapid wash-out of the radiotracer and thus by a low radioactivity intensity in the delayed scintigraphic images. Scintigraphy. In the thyroid diseases group, scintigraphy was particularly useful: 1) to diagnose a diffuse hyperfunctioning thyroid gland, and to differentiate in multinodular goiters the hyper- from the hypo-functioning nodules. In the hyperparathyroid diseases group, scintigraphy was particular useful in making a differential diagnosis between a true parathyroid enlargement vs. a lymph node or a muscle or a vessel as depicted at USG, and in cases with deeply or ectopically-positioned parathyroid glands. Combined imaging approach. Combined interpretation provided additional benefit in 225 of 339 patients (64.4%). Overall, using the combined scintigraphic/USG single-day protocol, in the thyroid diseases group the therapeutic strategy (drug therapy vs radioiodine therapy vs surgery) was changed in 176/225 patients (78.2%, P<0.001 by chi(2) of Pearson), and in the parathyroid disease group the therapeutic strategy (medical therapy vs surgery) was changed in 18/48 patients (37.5%, P<0.01 by chi2 test of Pearson).
Conclusion: In agreement with some previous published experiences, the combined single-day scintigraphic/USG protocol systematically adopted in a large series of consecutive patients with thyroid and parathyroid diseases, enrolled in a limited period of time, proved to significantly increase the global diagnostic accuracy and to change the therapeutic strategy in more than two third of patients with a thyroid disease and in more than one third of patients with a parathyroid disease.