Report from RSNA: CT reconstructions alone prove risky in cervical spine cases

January 5, 2007

Relying on CT multiplanar reconstructions alone to pick up cervical spine fractures in blunt trauma patients is too risky, researchers said at an emergency radiology session at the RSNA meeting.

Relying on CT multiplanar reconstructions alone to pick up cervical spine fractures in blunt trauma patients is too risky, researchers said at an emergency radiology session at the RSNA meeting.

An estimated 10,000 cervical spine fractures occur every year in the U.S., and early diagnosis is essential for minimizing damage. Multislice CT has proven far superior to plain film for clearing the cervical spine, as well as faster and cost-effective for those at risk of moderate to severe injuries.

Typically, axial images are obtained along with sagittal and coronal multiplanar reconstructions. But some have questioned whether reconstructions suffice for diagnostic purposes in blunt trauma patients with suspected cervical spine fractures.

A new restrospective study conducted at the University of Maryland found very high specificity for reconstructed images alone at 98.1%, but sensitivity was just 75.6%.

"Reconstructed images alone cannot be used to detect cervical spine injuries with an acceptable degree of sensitivity," said Dr. Lisa Miller, an assistant professor of diagnostic radiology at Maryland, who presented the results.

The study looked at 104 consecutive blunt trauma cases plus 104 normal control cases seen within a 12-month study period in the emergency department. Three reviewers looked independently at the axial images plus reconstructions (15 sagittal and 20 coronal per case) performed on a 16-slice CT scanner. They recorded presence and location of injury if a fracture was detected. One month later, they analyzed the reconstructed images alone. Findings were compared with the radiology reports.

Of 312 fractures, 76 were missed on reconstructed images alone, according to Miller. The most common types of fractures missed were transverse process, isolated fracture of the C-1 arch, and fractures of the lamina.

Unstable fractures were also missed on the sagittal and coronal images, such as atlanto-axial dissociation and hyperextension injuries, she said.

For more online information, visit Diagnostic Imaging's RSNA Webcast.