Observer variability in mesothelioma tumor thickness measurements: defining minimally measurable lesions

J Thorac Oncol. 2014 Aug;9(8):1187-94. doi: 10.1097/JTO.0000000000000211.


Introduction: Single time-point unidimensional tumor thickness measurements define measurable disease for clinical trial inclusion and also constitute a field in the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer prospective mesothelioma staging database. The modified Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (RECIST) guidelines for mesothelioma did not alter the 10-mm minimum tumor measurement recommendation. However, as computed tomography technology has advanced, we sought to examine whether interobserver agreement was acceptable at smaller tumor thickness in mesothelioma.

Methods: The primary observer selected 170 discrete measurement sites from 105 thoracic computed tomography scans from 50 consenting patients with pleural mesothelioma. Sites represented a range of tumor thickness, lesion morphology, and location. The outer (parietal) tumor margin was marked at each site and presented to five additional observers, who then selected the visceral margin of the tumor to create a line segment that captured tumor thickness. Relative differences among the observer measurements were estimated using a random-effects analysis of variance model to identify the smallest tumor thickness at which linear measurements could be made reliably.

Results: Systematic bias was observed, with some observers consistently measuring larger or smaller thicknesses than the thickness measured by others. The mean range across all 170 sites was 15.1% of the mean per-site measurement (SD = 9.1%; median range, 13.1%). Measurements acquired at sites with mean tumor thickness less than 7.5 mm demonstrated interobserver variability with a 75th percentile included 20% of the tumor thickness. The 95% confidence interval for relative interobserver measurement differences obtained for mean measurement lengths in the range 5 to 7.5 mm does not exceed the RECIST thresholds.

Conclusions: This study has implications for the definition of minimally measurable tumor adopted by clinical trial and staging protocols. Although the statistical findings suggest that a reduction in "minimally measurable disease" from 10 mm to 5 or 7.5 mm might be warranted, clinical factors may ultimately dictate the most appropriate definition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Mesothelioma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Mesothelioma / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Observer Variation
  • Pleural Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pleural Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Tumor Burden*