Computed Tomography Imaging Characteristics of Histologically Confirmed Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma—Implications for Ancillary Imaging

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Jeffrey B. Walker
Justin Loloi
Alexander Birk
Jay D. Raman



Low-attenuation renal lesions on non-contrast computed tomography (CT) are often considered to be benign cysts without need for further imaging. However, the papillary subtype of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) may have similar radiographic charac-teristics. A single-center retrospective review was therefore performed to identify extirpated papillary RCC (pRCC) specimens with correlation made to preoperative tumor imaging characteristics. A total of 108 pRCC specimens were identified of which 84 (27 type I, 17 type 2, 40 unspecified) had CT imaging available for review. Non-contrast CT was available for 73 tumors with 16 (22%) demonstrating Hounsfield units (HU) measurements fewer than 20 at baseline without differences between papillary subtypes. Mean attenuation following contrast administration was similar between papillary subtypes (45 HU for type 1 pRCC and 49 HU for type 2). This study highlights that pathologically proven pRCC is a heterogeneous entity in terms of density on preoperative CT imaging. A non-contrast CT scan with HU fewer than 20 may not be an adequate evaluation for incidental renal masses, as over 1 in 5 pRCCs demonstrate lower attenuation than this cutoff. Further study is needed to identify the appropriate role of ancillary imaging in the workup of seemingly benign-appearing renal lesions.

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