What are the limitations of imaging to evaluate renal cell carcinoma (RCC)?

Updated: Dec 13, 2018
  • Author: Deborah A Baumgarten, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Eugene C Lin, MD  more...
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The primary limitation of CT is the characterization of hypoattenuation in masses smaller than 8-10 mm, in which pseudoenhancement may be a problem. In these cases, US may be of some use in characterizing the lesions as cysts. In addition, spread to regional lymph nodes in the absence of lymph node enlargement can be missed. If contrast material cannot be intravenously administered, CT is a poor choice for evaluating renal masses. MRI should be performed instead.

The primary limitations of US include problems related to incomplete staging (bones, lungs, regional nodes) and to the detection of small non–contour-deforming masses. In addition, large patients are not good candidates for US because of technical difficulties in obtaining adequate images.

MRI is limited by patient cooperation because MRI is more sensitive to motion artifact than CT. However, advances in techniques for limiting motion, as well as techniques that allow free breathing, may obviate these limitations. However, MRI is still more expensive and less readily available than CT. Furthermore, patients with pacemakers, certain types of medical implants, or severe claustrophobia are excluded from undergoing MRI.

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