Thin-section CT findings in peripheral lung cancer of 3 cm or smaller: are there any characteristic features for predicting tumor histology or do they depend only on tumor size?

Acta Radiol. 2014 Apr;55(3):302-8. doi: 10.1177/0284185113495834. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Background: Ground-glass opacity (GGO) is reported to be characteristic to lepidic growth of neoplasm in subsolid nodules. In solid nodules of lung cancer, however, there is no characteristic feature to be reported.

Purpose: To study if there are any thin-section CT findings characteristic to tumor histology or if they are only related to tumor size in solid nodules of the lung cancer.

Material and methods: This study included 106 solid peripheral lung cancers of 3 cm or smaller (56 adenocarcinomas, 33 squamous cell carcinomas, and 17 small cell carcinomas) in which 16-slice CT with 1 mm collimation was performed before surgery. Six morphologic findings (presence or absence of lobulation, coarse spiculation, air bronchogram, cavity, pleural tag, and pleural-based lesion) and four measurements (ratio of the greatest transverse and vertical diameter to the shortest transverse diameter and density of lobulation and coarse spiculation) on thin-section CT images were evaluated. Density of lobulation (coarse spiculation) was defined as the ratio of lobulation (coarse spiculation) number to the greatest transverse diameter of a nodule.

Results: Air bronchogram (P < 0.01) was the only significant factor for predicting lung adenocarcinoma. The prevalence of air bronchogram was significantly greater in adenocarcinoma than in squamous cell carcinoma (P < 0.01) or small cell carcinoma (P < 0.01). As the tumor size advanced, significantly positive linear trends were seen in the prevalence of lobulation (P < 0.01), coarse spiculation (P < 0.01), and pleural tag (P < 0.01), and the mean values of density of lobulation (P < 0.01) and coarse spiculation (P < 0.01), while the significant negative linear trend was seen in the ratio of vertical diameter to the shortest transverse (P = 0.02).

Conclusion: Air bronchogram on thin-section CT is characteristic feature of solid adenocarcinoma of the lung. However, other thin-section CT findings are irrelevant to tumor histology and related only to tumor size.

Keywords: CT findings; Lung neoplasms; air bronchogram; computed tomography.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Aged
  • Bronchography
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*