Diagnostic Test Accuracy of Ultrasonography vs Computed Tomography for Papillary Thyroid Cancer Cervical Lymph Node Metastasis Academic Article uri icon

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  • Importance

    The use of ultrasonography (US) vs cross-sectional imaging for preoperative evaluation of papillary thyroid cancer is debated.


    To compare thyroid US and computed tomography (CT) in the preoperative evaluation of papillary thyroid cancer for cervical lymph node metastasis (CLNM), as well as extrathyroidal disease extension.

    Data sources

    MEDLINE and Embase were searched from January 1, 2000, to July 18, 2020.

    Study selection

    Studies reporting on the diagnostic accuracy of US and/or CT in individuals with treatment-naive papillary thyroid cancer for CLNM and/or extrathyroidal disease extension were included. The reference standard was defined as histopathology/cytology or imaging follow-up. Independent title and abstract review (2515 studies) followed by full-text review (145 studies) was completed by multiple investigators.

    Data extraction and synthesis

    PRISMA guidelines were followed. Methodologic and diagnostic accuracy data were abstracted independently by multiple investigators. Risk of bias assessment was conducted using the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies (QUADAS-2) tool independently and in duplicate. Bivariate random-effects model meta-analysis and multivariable meta-regression modeling was used.

    Main outcomes and measures

    Diagnostic test accuracy of US and CT of the neck for lateral and central compartment CLNM, as well as for extrathyroidal disease extension, determined prior to study commencement.


    A total of 47 studies encompassing 31 942 observations for thyroid cancer (12 771 with CLNM; 1747 with extrathyroidal thyroid extension) were included; 21 and 26 studies were at low and high risk for bias, respectively. Based on comparative design studies, US and CT demonstrated no significant difference in sensitivity (73% [95% CI, 64%-80%] and 77% [95% CI, 67%-85%], respectively; P = .11) or specificity (89% [95% CI, 80%-94%] and 88% [95% CI, 79%-94%], respectively; P = .79) for lateral compartment CLNM. For central compartment metastasis, sensitivity was higher in CT (39% [95% CI, 27%-52%]) vs US (28% [95% CI, 21%-36%]; P = .004), while specificity was higher in US (95% [95% CI, 92%-98%]) vs CT (87% [95% CI, 77%-93%]; P < .001). Ultrasonography demonstrated a sensitivity of 91% (95% CI, 81%-96%) and specificity of 47% (95% CI, 35%-60%) for extrathyroidal extension.

    Conclusions and relevance

    The findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that further study is warranted of the role of CT for papillary thyroid cancer staging, possibly as an adjunct to US.

publication date

  • February 1, 2022