Thyroid Ultrasound Criteria to Diagnose Possible Malignant Tumors

There are so many important articles that do not get published in the radiology literature.

The recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine has an article by Smith-Bindman R et al that discusses how to use thyroid USG signs to decide which nodules need to be biopsied.

Three criteria are important – microcalcifications, completely solid appearance and size greater than 2 cm. If we stringently follow the rule that at least two of these criteria have to be present before performing thyroid nodule biopsy, then the sensitivity would be reduced but with a high positive predictive value, but without compromising the ability to pick up malignancy. It is worth reading the article to understand the importance of large population based studies to help us use our radiology signs to better triage patients.


The Vanishing Art of Clinical Science – Hyposkilia

This has been written by Dr. Anisha Sawkar Tandon, a consultant radiologist at the St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru. You can reach her at anisha.sawkar at

I am a practicing radiologist. Over the past few years I have noticed a disturbing trend that threatens to destroy the very nature of medicine. I have been witnessing increasing referrals for radiological investigations even before a clinical history has been taken. We radiologists are familiar with the experience of having to report radiological studies with absolutely the bare minimum clinical history or the complete lack of it. But what has begun to shake me to the core is the fact that even when I have gotten back to the referring clinician for more information, there have been innumerable instances where they simply do not know more just because they have not really talked to the patient in detail, leave alone examined the patient.

Here is an example of one of the situations that I was confronted with when reporting an MRI of the brain of a 58-years old lady who was sent from the emergency department. The referral form mentioned, “Rule out cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT)”. These were the only words of “history” provided. The MRI brain not only had no signs of CVT, but there were some symmetric basal ganglia changes that favored a metabolic encephalopathy, likely related to chronic liver disease. Since the Emergency department is easily accessible with a phone call, I could immediately contact them and ask for more details.

At first, since their question was “rule out CVT”, I attempted to elicit some history related to CVT. The disturbing answer that I got was, “The patient basically has altered sensorium and since CVT is one of the conditions that could cause CVT, we just wanted to rule it out!” I tried to find out more about the altered sensorium and the information I got in response was, “She basically looks like a psychiatric case and also has diabetes and hypertension”. After obtaining this invaluable information, I explained my findings and requested them to assess whether the patient had some form of liver dysfunction since the findings were definitely “metabolic” and not “psychiatric”.

These events had occurred at 6 pm in the evening. The next day, when I decided to follow up on what had happened to my patient, I found this sequence of events that had unfolded after my MRI brain report. The patient, had, at 7 pm undergone an ultrasound of the abdomen, which showed cirrhosis of liver with portal hypertension and ascites and suspicious nodules in the liver. At 8 pm, the patient had undergone a CT scan of the abdomen that confirmed the cirrhosis with regenerative nodules, portal hypertension and ascites. Meanwhile the results of the liver function tests showed findings consistent with chronic liver disease and the patient was known to be HbsAg positive for 5 years. The next morning, a clinical examination by a gastroenterologist and neurologist concluded that the patient was, in fact, in hepatic encephalopathy.

If you analyze this case, it worked out beautifully for the radiologist. What else could a radiologist ask for? An MRI brain, an ultrasound abdomen and a triple phase CT scan of the abdomen in one patient in one evening! What about the patient though? It’s scary to think that not one, but all of the above investigations could have been avoided by just basic history taking and an adequate clinical examination.

I understand that in a busy ER, not every patient with altered sensorium is going to undergo a 30 minutes detailed neurological exam, but a 30 minutes exam wouldn’t be needed if the simple task of talking to the patient had been accomplished which would have brought out the known Hepatitis B status. Whenever I see this kind of situation, I am appalled at what medicine has come to. There are so many more such instances in which an ultrasound of the abdomen is the first time that a large laparotomy scar has been noticed, or an MRI brain study is the first time when a craniotomy has been discovered and the referring clinician has had no knowledge of the same. It’s a different situation when such cases have been directly referred by some remote village primary health center “(PHC) and then perhaps the lack of knowledge by the referring physician can be overlooked. But it’s acutely disturbing when these cases are referred by our own colleagues, specialists in their fields and the first person to touch the patient’s hurting abdomen is a radiologist.

As a radiologist who wishes her field to thrive, I should have no cause for complaint. But as a doctor and a clinical radiologist, I am concerned about the kind of medicine we practice today, where the end result is unnecessary investigations and ultimately a burden on the patient and the system.

I would like to end by quoting Sir Robert Hutchison who said the following words, which sadly are very pertinent today

“From inability to leave well alone; from too much zeal for the new and contempt for what is old; from putting knowledge before wisdom, science before art, and cleverness before common sense, from treating patients as cases, and from making the cure of the disease more grievous than the endurance of the same, Good Lord, deliver us.”

Why did the Potter’s Hand shake?

One more piece from Dr. Akhila Prasad, Sr. Specialist, Dr. RML Hospital, New Delhi that makes her think. You can reach her at akhil43 at She earlier wrote the piece, “The Physician Buried Inside the Radiologist”.


A vessel of more ungainly make…

What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.


Who among us radiologists, are not familiar with the sickening, sinking feeling we get when we are scanning a blissfully, happily pregnant woman’s abdomen and the various shades of grey slowly reveal to us, “Yes! The Potter’s Hand must have shaken while making this pot!”

This is about the number of times we have diagnosed some form of congenital anomaly on an antenatal scan! The mother is smiling and looking at us in anticipation, often in a blissfully ignorant, content state, lying in front of us, so trustingly exposing her pregnant belly carrying that magical life inside her!

We have to continue to maintain a poker face as if nothing is amiss and everything is fine and first try to figure out what the hell is happening on the screen, and having quickly figured out how the Potter’s Hand shook and having frozen all the shakings into eternity (images), comes the next issue of how to tell, what to tell and how to manage the patient!

Sometimes the patient guesses even before we say something, our body language perhaps or the facial expression or her own intuition…or the number of postgraduate students excited beyond imagination at the unimaginable cosmic mistake in front of them!

Thoughts of all kinds, all at the same moment, fleet past in our minds…to err is human, but here is where the Divine seems to have erred! Is it possible? How? But the results are in the front of us on the screen! “What was that unborn child’s fault dammit!” you ask yourself. It has not even come into this world yet, or committed any mistake and it has had to pay…like this?” your brain argues. “Karmic”, the word echoes somewhere in your brain, a general one-stop shop answer to every Indian problem! “Whose Karma?” immediately your brain asks. “The unborn body? Or the unborn soul? Or the previous birth body? Or the previous birth soul??…you don’t have any answers!

And by that time anyway you have more pressing problems at hand to handle! To handle the patient at hand! To handle her mother or husband standing next to you! To gently reveal to them that something is wrong! God forgot to put a head! Or He shortened a couple of limbs! He decided to put the baby’s abdomen into the chest! God!!! What do you say? How do you say it? And why doesn’t it get easier over the years? Why is it as troubling and as painful each time? And the irony is that despite what you feel inside, you automatically tend to stick to your professional training and duty and deal with it as if it is perfectly normal to have an abnormal unborn child. And so you write out the report and say, “Next!”

This brings us to one more core issue in our training. We must drill it into every resident’s head to mentally and morally treat every obstetric ultrasound after the relevant period of gestation, as a Level II study! The patient has come to us at this instance for a scan, after fighting God knows what odds and under what difficult circumstances. It does not matter whether the ultrasound form or receipt says, “Level II”! We have to scan her child head to toe, no matter what the form says, no matter whether it is her nth ultrasound…it has to seep into our very being, that we have to quickly and systematically declare normalcy or detect anything abnormal. The mother and the child both deserve that!

Brittle Bones, Late Diagnosis

I received a call about 4 months ago from a family physician, who wanted me to perform a USG or CT guided biopsy for a mass in the anterior compartment of the right thigh in a 47-years old woman. He did not give me any more details and said the patient would get in touch with me.

I forgot about this, until a month later, when I was going through some histopathology reports of biopsies done by my ultrasonologist and chanced upon a report that described a hemangiopericytoma in the thigh with a comment saying that this was consistent with a phospaturic mesenchymal tumor.


Fig. 1: Ultrasound shows the mass in the anterior compartment of the right thigh (red arrow) with the biopsy needle (blue arrow)

I called for more details and then realized that this was the same patient that the family physician, a month ago, had called about. Different people in our department do ultrasound and CT-guided biopsies and the patient went straight to the ultrasonologist, who in turn, went ahead and performed a core biopsy of the mass in the anterior compartment of the thigh (Fig. 1).

A phosphaturic mesenchymal tumor is a rare condition and typically secretes FGF-23 (fibroblastic growth factor) that produces osteomalacia. This combination is called oncogenic osteomalacia or tumor-induced osteomalacia (TIO).

I then asked the patient to get all the reports and details.


Fig. 2: Radiograph shows an insufficiency fracture (arrow) of the base of the proximal right 3rd metatarsal bone.


Fig. 3: Radiograph shows an insufficiency fracture (arrow) of the mid-left 5th metatarsal bone.

It had taken 5 years to get to this diagnosis. She started with an insufficiency fracture, five years ago, in the right 3rd metatarsal bone (Fig. 2), followed a month later by another fracture in the left 5th metatarsal bone (Fig. 3). She received symptomatic treatment and went from doctor to doctor with variable diagnoses of osteoporosis and perhaps osteomalacia.

This went on for 4 years, until one day, she was unable to get up from bed. She was admitted to a hospital and a skeletal survey showed fractures of the necks of both humeri (Fig. 5) and femurs (Fig. 6) with biconcave vertebrae (Fig. 7). Finally she received a diagnosis of osteomalacia and was worked up.

Her serum calcium was normal, vitamin D was normal, serum phosphorus was very low and her 24-hours urine phosphorus was elevated with a normal serum parathormone level and a raised serum alkaline phosphatase level. She did not fit into vitamin D related causes or phosphate deficiency conditions and what was left was a potential diagnosis of oncogenic osteomalacia.

Fig 4

Fig. 4: Radiographs of both shoulders show fractures (red arrows) of the necks of both humeri

Fig 5

Fig. 5: Radiograph of the bones of the pelvis and both hips show fractures (red arrows) of the necks of both femurs.

Lateral radiograph of the spine shows biconcave vertebrae

Fig. 6: Lateral radiograph of the spine shows biconcave vertebrae

Thus started the search for an FGF-secreting tumor that produces phosphaturia, hypophosphatemia and osteomalacia. A PET/CT then showed a mass with low FDG uptake in the anterior compartment of the thigh (Fig. 7), which was then biopsied. The common tumors that produce FGF are hemangiopericytoma, hemangioma, giant cell tumor and non-ossifying fibroma.

Contrast enhanced CT scan shows a hypervascular lesion (arrow) in the anterior compartment of right thigh, with mild FDG uptake (arrow) on the PET study.

Fig. 7: Contrast enhanced CT scan shows a hypervascular lesion (arrow) in the anterior compartment of right thigh, with mild FDG uptake (arrow) on the PET study.

She was operated and the tumor removed. Most patients show dramatic recovery of their phosphorus levels, but the skeletal changes and fractures take time to heal. The patient is slowly getting better symptomatically.

The most common reason for delayed diagnosis (in her case 5 years with an average time of 4.7 years from start of symptoms to final diagnosis) is due to lack of awareness and the inability to find the tumor.

This case was recently presented by our DNB resident Dr. Parang Sanghavi in the Teaching Files Case Presentation meeting in Mumbai, where it won the first prize in the 3rd year residents’ category.

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