Increasing numbers of incidental pancreatic lesions are being detected each year. Accurate characterisation of pancreatic lesions into benign, precancerous, and cancer masses is crucial in deciding whether to use treatment or surveillance. Distinguishing benign lesions from precancerous and cancerous lesions can prevent patients from undergoing unnecessary major surgery. Despite the importance of accurately classifying pancreatic lesions, there is no clear algorithm for management of focal pancreatic lesions.
To determine and compare the diagnostic accuracy of various imaging modalities in detecting cancerous and precancerous lesions in people with focal pancreatic lesions.
We searched the CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and Science Citation Index until 19 July 2016. We searched the references of included studies to identify further studies. We did not restrict studies based on language or publication status, or whether data were collected prospectively or retrospectively.
We planned to include studies reporting cross-sectional information on the index test (CT (computed tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography), EUS (endoscopic ultrasound), EUS elastography, and EUS-guided biopsy or FNA (fine-needle aspiration)) and reference standard (confirmation of the nature of the lesion was obtained by histopathological examination of the entire lesion by surgical excision, or histopathological examination for confirmation of precancer or cancer by biopsy and clinical follow-up of at least six months in people with negative index tests) in people with pancreatic lesions irrespective of language or publication status or whether the data were collected prospectively or retrospectively.
Two review authors independently searched the references to identify relevant studies and extracted the data. We planned to use the bivariate analysis to calculate the summary sensitivity and specificity with their 95% confidence intervals and the hierarchical summary receiver operating characteristic (HSROC) to compare the tests and assess heterogeneity, but used simpler models (such as univariate random-effects model and univariate fixed-effect model) for combining studies when appropriate because of the sparse data. We were unable to compare the diagnostic performance of the tests using formal statistical methods because of sparse data.
We included 54 studies involving a total of 3,196 participants evaluating the diagnostic accuracy of various index tests. In these 54 studies, eight different target conditions were identified with different final diagnoses constituting benign, precancerous, and cancerous lesions. None of the studies was of high methodological quality. None of the comparisons in which single studies were included was of sufficiently high methodological quality to warrant highlighting of the results. For differentiation of cancerous lesions from benign or precancerous lesions, we identified only one study per index test. The second analysis, of studies differentiating cancerous versus benign lesions, provided three tests in which meta-analysis could be performed. The sensitivities and specificities for diagnosing cancer were: EUS-FNA: sensitivity 0.79 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07 to 1.00), specificity 1.00 (95% CI 0.91 to 1.00); EUS: sensitivity 0.95 (95% CI 0.84 to 0.99), specificity 0.53 (95% CI 0.31 to 0.74); PET: sensitivity 0.92 (95% CI 0.80 to 0.97), specificity 0.65 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.84). The third analysis, of studies differentiating precancerous or cancerous lesions from benign lesions, only provided one test (EUS-FNA) in which meta-analysis was performed. EUS-FNA had moderate sensitivity for diagnosing precancerous or cancerous lesions (sensitivity 0.73 (95% CI 0.01 to 1.00) and high specificity 0.94 (95% CI 0.15 to 1.00), the extremely wide confidence intervals reflecting the heterogeneity between the studies). The fourth analysis, of studies differentiating cancerous (invasive carcinoma) from precancerous (dysplasia) provided three tests in which meta-analysis was performed. The sensitivities and specificities for diagnosing invasive carcinoma were: CT: sensitivity 0.72 (95% CI 0.50 to 0.87), specificity 0.92 (95% CI 0.81 to 0.97); EUS: sensitivity 0.78 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.94), specificity 0.91 (95% CI 0.61 to 0.98); EUS-FNA: sensitivity 0.66 (95% CI 0.03 to 0.99), specificity 0.92 (95% CI 0.73 to 0.98). The fifth analysis, of studies differentiating cancerous (high-grade dysplasia or invasive carcinoma) versus precancerous (low- or intermediate-grade dysplasia) provided six tests in which meta-analysis was performed. The sensitivities and specificities for diagnosing cancer (high-grade dysplasia or invasive carcinoma) were: CT: sensitivity 0.87 (95% CI 0.00 to 1.00), specificity 0.96 (95% CI 0.00 to 1.00); EUS: sensitivity 0.86 (95% CI 0.74 to 0.92), specificity 0.91 (95% CI 0.83 to 0.96); EUS-FNA: sensitivity 0.47 (95% CI 0.24 to 0.70), specificity 0.91 (95% CI 0.32 to 1.00); EUS-FNA carcinoembryonic antigen 200 ng/mL: sensitivity 0.58 (95% CI 0.28 to 0.83), specificity 0.51 (95% CI 0.19 to 0.81); MRI: sensitivity 0.69 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.86), specificity 0.93 (95% CI 0.43 to 1.00); PET: sensitivity 0.90 (95% CI 0.79 to 0.96), specificity 0.94 (95% CI 0.81 to 0.99). The sixth analysis, of studies differentiating cancerous (invasive carcinoma) from precancerous (low-grade dysplasia) provided no tests in which meta-analysis was performed. The seventh analysis, of studies differentiating precancerous or cancerous (intermediate- or high-grade dysplasia or invasive carcinoma) from precancerous (low-grade dysplasia) provided two tests in which meta-analysis was performed. The sensitivity and specificity for diagnosing cancer were: CT: sensitivity 0.83 (95% CI 0.68 to 0.92), specificity 0.83 (95% CI 0.64 to 0.93) and MRI: sensitivity 0.80 (95% CI 0.58 to 0.92), specificity 0.81 (95% CI 0.53 to 0.95), respectively. The eighth analysis, of studies differentiating precancerous or cancerous (intermediate- or high-grade dysplasia or invasive carcinoma) from precancerous (low-grade dysplasia) or benign lesions provided no test in which meta-analysis was performed.There were no major alterations in the subgroup analysis of cystic pancreatic focal lesions (42 studies; 2086 participants). None of the included studies evaluated EUS elastography or sequential testing.
We were unable to arrive at any firm conclusions because of the differences in the way that study authors classified focal pancreatic lesions into cancerous, precancerous, and benign lesions; the inclusion of few studies with wide confidence intervals for each comparison; poor methodological quality in the studies; and heterogeneity in the estimates within comparisons.