Factors associated with missed and misinterpreted cases of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

Eur Radiol. 2021 Apr;31(4):2422-2432. doi: 10.1007/s00330-020-07307-5. Epub 2020 Sep 30.


Objectives: To retrospectively examine US, CT, and MR imaging examinations of missed or misinterpreted pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), and identify factors which may have confounded detection or interpretation.

Methods: We reviewed 107 examinations in 66/257 patients (26%, mean age 73.7 years) diagnosed with PDAC in 2014 and 2015, with missed or misinterpreted imaging findings as determined by a prior study. For each patient, images and reports were independently reviewed by two radiologists, and in consensus, the following factors which may have confounded assessment were recorded: inherent tumor factors, concurrent pancreatic pathology, technical limitations, and cognitive biases. Secondary signs of PDAC associated with each examination were recorded and compared with the original report to determine which findings were missed.

Results: There were 66/107 (62%) and 49/107 (46%) cases with missed and misinterpreted imaging findings, respectively. A significant number of missed tumors were < 2 cm (45/107, 42%), isoattenuating on CT (32/72, 44%) or non-contour deforming (44/107, 41%). Most (29/49, 59%) misinterpreted examinations were reported as uncomplicated pancreatitis. Almost all examinations (94/107, 88%) demonstrated secondary signs; pancreatic duct dilation was the most common (65/107, 61%) and vascular invasion was the most commonly missed 35/39 (90%). Of the CT and MRIs, 28 of 88 (32%) had suboptimal contrast dosing. Inattentional blindness was the most common cognitive bias, identified in 55/107 (51%) of the exams.

Conclusion: Recognizing pitfalls of PDAC detection and interpretation, including intrinsic tumor features, secondary signs, technical factors, and cognitive biases, can assist radiologists in making an early and accurate diagnosis.

Key points: • There were 66/107 (62%) and 49/107 (46%) cases with missed and misinterpreted imaging findings, respectively, with tumoral, technical, and cognitive factors leading to the misdiagnosis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. • The majority (29/49, 59%) of misinterpreted cases of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma were mistaken for pancreatitis, where an underlying mass or secondary signs were not appreciated due to inflammatory changes. • The most common missed secondary sign of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma was vascular encasement, missed in 35/39 (90%) of cases, indicating the importance of evaluating the peri-pancreatic vasculature.

Keywords: Pancreatic ductal carcinoma; Pancreatic neoplasms; Pancreatitis; Retrospective studies.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal* / diagnostic imaging
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Ducts
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Retrospective Studies