Differential diagnosis of cervical lymphadenopathy: usefulness of color Doppler sonography

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1997 May;168(5):1311-6. doi: 10.2214/ajr.168.5.9129432.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the usefulness of color Doppler sonography in differentiating benign from malignant cervical lymphadenopathy.

Materials and methods: We used color Doppler sonography to evaluate 117 lymph nodes in 105 patients. The patients were pathologically and clinically confirmed to have benign reactive lymphadenitis (n = 28), tuberculosis (n = 17), lymphoma (n = 14), and metastasis (n = 46). The patterns of hilar vascularity, central nodal vascularity, and peripheral vascularity were assessed. The highest resistive index and pulsatility index in 116 lymph nodes were measured from spectral waveforms. Histologic findings of nodal vessels were analyzed in 14 nodes and compared with findings on color Doppler sonograms.

Results: Thirty-two (94%) of 34 nodes with benign reactive disease showed normal patterns of nodal vascularity; central hilar vascularity, radial symmetric central vascularity, and no peripheral vascularity. At least one of six abnormal patterns of vascularity (eccentric or absent hilar vascularity; deformed radial, aberrant multifocal, or absent central vascularity; and peripheral vascularity) was observed in 98% (65/66) of nodes with malignant disease and in all tuberculous nodes. We established cutoff values of 0.8 for the resistive index and 1.5 for the pulsatility index that were 100% specific for malignancy. However, sensitivities for these cutoff values were 47% and 55%, respectively. Also, histologic examinations showed that most flow signals in nodes with malignant disease represented arterioles or veins in the septa between tumor nests or near the capsule.

Conclusion: Unlike nodes with benign reactive disease, 98% of nodes with malignant disease and 100% of tuberculous nodes showed abnormal patterns of nodal vascularity. Also, high values for the resistive and pulsatility indexes were highly specific for malignant lymphadenopathy. Color Doppler sonography combined with analysis of spectral waveforms was useful in differentiating benign from malignant cervical lymphadenopathy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / blood supply
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging
  • Lymphadenitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck
  • ROC Curve
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tuberculosis, Lymph Node / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color*