Background: To evaluate the diagnostic utility of conventional ultrasonography and real time ultrasound elastography in differentiating degenerating cystic thyroid nodules mimicking malignancy from papillary thyroid carcinoma.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed conventional ultrasonographic and elastographic characteristics of 19 degenerating cystic thyroid nodules mimicking malignancy in 19 patients, with 30 surgically confirmed PTCs as controls. Based on size, the nodules had been grouped into less than 10mm (group A) and greater than 10 mm (group B). We evaluated conventional parameters and elasticity pattern. Color-scaled elastograms were graded as to stiffness of nodules using an elasticity pattern from I (soft) to IV (stiff).
Results: Degenerating cystic thyroid nodules were similar to PTCs in conventional ultrasonographic findings, but the former frequently showed oval to round in shape (group A, 69.2% vs 18.8%, P=0.017; group B, 66.7% vs 7.14%, P=0.017) and punctuate hyperechoic foci (group A, 61.5% vs 0, P<0.001; group B, 50% vs 0, P<0.001). On real time ultrasound elastography, 7 of 13 degenerating cystic thyroid nodules in group A were pattern I, 5 were pattern II, 1 was pattern III. One degenerating cystic thyroid nodule in group B was pattern II, 5 were pattern III. The area under the curve for elastography was 0.98 in group A (sensitivity 92.3%, specificity 100%, P = 0.002), and 0.88 in group B (sensitivity 16.7%, specificity 100%, P = 0.014).
Conclusions: As a dependable imaging technique, elastography helps increase the performance in differential diagnosis of degenerating cystic thyroid nodule and malignancy.