Background: Lymph node metastases (LNM) are an ominous prognostic factor in gallbladder cancer (GBC) and, when present, should preclude surgery. However, uncertainty remains regarding the optimal imaging modality for pre-operative detection of LNM and international guidelines vary in their recommendations. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the diagnostic accuracy of computed tomography (CT) versus magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the detection of LNM of GBC.
Methods: A literature search of studies published until November 2017 concerning the diagnostic accuracy of CT or MRI regarding the detection of LNM in GBC was performed. Data extraction and risk of bias assessment was performed independently by two reviewers. The sensitivity of CT and MRI in the detection of LNM was reviewed. Additionally, estimated summary sensitivity, specificity and diagnostic accuracy of MRI were calculated in a patient based meta-analysis.
Results: Nine studies including 292 patients were included for narrative synthesis and 5 studies including 158 patients were selected for meta-analysis. Sensitivity of CT ranged from 0.25 to 0.93. Estimated summary diagnostic accuracy parameters of MRI were as follows: sensitivity 0.75 (95% CI 0.6 - 0.85), specificity 0.83 (95% CI 0.74 - 0.90), LR + 4.52 (95% CI 2.55-6.48) and LR- 0.3 (95% CI 0.15 - 0.45). Small (<10 mm) LNM were most frequently undetected on pre-operative imaging. Due to a lack of data, no subgroup analysis comparing the diagnostic accuracy of CT versus MRI could be performed.
Conclusion: The value of current imaging strategies for the pre-operative assessment of nodal status in GBC remains unclear, especially regarding the detection of small LNM. Additional research is warranted in order to establish uniformity in international guidelines, improve pre-operative nodal staging and to prevent futile surgery.
Keywords: CT; Gallbladder cancer; Lymph node metastases; MRI; Pre-operative staging.
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