Dr. Pepe’s Diploma Casebook: CASE 137 – MEET THE EXAMINER

Dear Friends,

since we have the European Congress of Radiology this week, I don’t want to stress you unnecessarily. I have selected a “Meet the Examiner” presentation, with questions and answers similar to a real examination. You will get the final answer at the end of the presentation.

Take your time before seeking the answer. And no peeking!

This case was provided by my friend and co-worker Dr. Lucía Hernandez. The patient is a 39-year-old woman who had a tumorectomy for carcinoma of the right breast in March 2008. In February 2009 she noticed a lump in her right axilla. Breast MRI was performed.

What would be your diagnosis:

1. Necrotic lymph node
2. Metastasis
3. Fibrotic tissue
4. None of the above

Click here to see the images

Click here to see the answer

Findings: The MRI finding was interpreted as an enlarged lymph node in the right axillary area, around 35 mm in diameter and with a necrotic center (A and B, arrows).

Ultrasound exam demonstrated a longitudinal echogenic band of about 40 mm in length, suggestive of postsurgical changes. No adenopathy was found.
Fine-needle biopsy returned nonspecific findings, no signs of malignancy.

In view of these results, no action was taken.

The patient returned yearly for follow-up MRI and US studies, which showed no significant changes from the initial examination.

Ten years later, in January 2019, the patient detected a discrete ulceration in the right axilla and consulted her doctor. A new MRI examination was done.

What do you think?

Click here to see the answer

MRI showed a slight increase in the size of the lesion from 35 mm maximum diameter in 2009 (A, arrow) to 40 mm in 2019 (B, arrow). US showed no changes in comparison with previous studies. PET-CT study was ordered.

Click here to see the PET-CT

What do you see?

Click here to see the answer

The study was interpreted as a rounded axillary image with low peripheral uptake (SUV 4) (A-C, arrows). The high-density linear opacity in the center was overlooked (B, yellow arrow).

Click here to see more studies

At this stage of the game, all imaging studies were reviewed, including the chest radiographs.

Below are postoperative chest radiographs taken in March 2009. What do you see?

Click here to see the answer

Chest radiographs show a radio-opaque marker in the right axilla (A and B, arrows). The appearance is typical of a retained surgical gauze.

The findings are better seen in the cone down views (C and D, arrows). A cone down view of the axilla with the arm outstretched taken in 2019 clearly shows the axillary mass (E, black arrows) and the radio-opaque marked gauze within (E, red arrow).

Enhanced axial CT also shows the typical appearance of encapsulated surgical gauze (A and B, white arrows), with the radio-opaque marker inside (A and B, red arrows). Confirmed at surgery.

Final diagnosis: Retained surgical gauze in the right axilla

Retained surgical gauzes are occasionally seen in abdominal surgery, but are less common in the chest. I have encountered only one other case (See Fig. 1, below). Nonetheless, they are easily identified by their radio-opaque markers. Early detection of this material avoids unnecessary examinations and prevents future complications, as occurred in the patient presented.

As a chest radiologist, it makes me proud that proper reading of a chest radiograph achieved a diagnosis that prompted 2 biopsies, 9 MRI, 9 sonographies, and 1 PET-CT over 10 years.
It is interesting to note that a normal gauze count does not exclude the possibility of a retained gauze. In one series, the count was reported as correct in 22 of 29 patients (76%) with retained gauzes in the abdomen (Kaiser CW, Friedman S, Spurling KP, Slowick T, Kaiser HA. The retained surgical sponge. Ann Surg 1996;224:79–84).

Fig. 1. 58-year-old man with fever after cardiac surgery. PA radiograph was unremarkable. Lateral view shows a radio-opaque marker in the posterior heart shadow (A, arrow), better depicted in the cone down view (B, arrow), with the typical appearance of a retained gauze. CT confirms the presence of the gauze in the pericardial cavity (C, arrow). Proved at surgery.


Follow Dr. Pepe’s advice:

1. Retained surgical gauzes are easily identified by their radio-opaque markers.

2. Early discovery prevents complications and unnecessary examinations.

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