Evaluation of lymph node status in patients with urothelial carcinoma—still in search of the perfect imaging modality: a systematic review

Michał Frączek, Hubert Kamecki, Anna Kamecka, Roman Sosnowski, Katarzyna Sklinda, Marcin Czarniecki, Leszek Królicki, Jerzy Walecki


While accurate lymph node status evaluation in urothelial carcinoma patients is essential for the correct disease staging and, hence, establishing the most beneficial treatment strategy, the diagnostic performance of routine imaging in regards to this issue is not satisfactory. For the purpose of this article, we systematically reviewed the contemporary literature on the sensitivity and specificity of particular imaging modalities which have been studied for detecting lymph node metastases in patients diagnosed with urothelial carcinoma. The evidence reviewed shows that computed tomography (CT), although recognized as the imaging modality of choice, is associated with marked limitations, resulting in its low sensitivity for lymph node involvement detection in urothelial carcinoma patients, with no study reporting a value higher than 46% using standard cut-off values. Markedly higher sensitivity rates may be achieved with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), especially when using ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide as the contrast agent, however, no uniform protocol has been systematically studied up to date. The vast majority of recent evidence concerns positron emission tomography (PET), which is being reported to improve the diagnostic performance of CT alone, as has been demonstrated in multiple articles, which investigated the accuracy of PET/CT at primary or post-treatment staging of urothelial carcinoma patients. However, there has been substantial heterogeneity in terms of methodology and results between those studies, making it premature to draw any definitive conclusions. The results of this review lead to a conclusion, that while CT, despite being not fully satisfactory, still remains the gold-standard method of imaging for staging purposes in urothelial carcinoma, other imaging modalities are under investigation, with promising results.