Peripheral vascular lesions in adults referred to MRI/MRA: Multivariable analysis of imaging features to help differentiate benign vascular anomalies from malignancies


      • No single imaging feature reliably predicted malignancy (PPV ≤60%).
      • Absence of distinct soft tissue mass excluded malignancy (NPV 100%).
      • The five strongest predictors of malignancy were: T2 peaks, age ≥70 years, distinct soft tissue mass, lesion size ≥5 cm, and absence of septations.
      • 3 or more of these features resulted in sensitivity of 92% and specificity of 85%.



      Symptomatic peripheral vascular lesions in adults are often clinically diagnosed as benign vascular anomalies and may receive MRI/MRA for pre-treatment vascular mapping. Malignant neoplasms are difficult to distinguish from benign vascular anomalies on MRI/MRA. This study was performed to determine if there are imaging signs that can distinguish malignancies from benign vascular anomalies in adults imaged with MRI/MRA.

      Materials and methods

      A radiology database was retrospectively searched for ISSVA classification terms in MRI/MRA reports from 1/1/2002–1/1/2019. Adult patients (n = 50, 52 corresponding lesions) with contrast-enhanced MRI/MRA, peripheral soft tissue based lesion (s), and available pathology or long-term (>1 year) imaging follow-up were included. MRI/MRA images were reviewed by 3 readers for the following lesional characteristics: morphology (marginal lobulation, internal septations, distinct soft tissue mass), peri-articular location, T2-weighted characteristics (hyperintensity, heterogeneity, perilesional edema, and adjacent triangular T2-peaks), bulk fat, hemorrhage, enhancement pattern (peripheral, diffuse, or absent), neovascularity, low-flow venous malformation type enhancement, arterial enhancement within 6 s, enhancement curve (progressive, plateau, or washout), measured size, and multifocality. The MRI/MRA features' associated sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) were calculated. To identify factors predictive of malignancy, a two-stage multivariable analysis was performed.


      23% (12/52) of the lesions, corresponding to 22% (11/50) of the patients, were malignant neoplasms. No single imaging feature reliably predicted malignancy (PPV ≤ 60%). Absence of distinct soft tissue mass excluded malignancy (NPV 100%). Multivariate analysis derived a summary score based on the five strongest predictors of malignancy: adjacent T2 peaks, age ≥ 70 years, distinct soft tissue mass, lesion size ≥ 5 cm, and absence of septations. A score ≥ 3 resulted in sensitivity of 92% and specificity of 85%.


      Extremity MRI/MRA rarely differentiates malignant from benign soft-tissue vascular tumors in adults. However, MRI/MRA can suggest malignancy when patient age and multiple imaging features are considered. Periodic clinical follow-up after the planned endovascular or operative procedure should be performed to avoid missing a malignancy.


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