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Radiologic evaluation of knee tumors in adults

Shahla Modarresi, MD
Cecilia Matilda Jude, MD
Section Editor
Robert H Shmerling, MD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. It is lined by synovium and consists of two hinge-type joints between the femoral condyles and the medial and lateral tibial plateaus, and of a gliding-type joint between the patella and the trochlear groove of the anterior distal femur (figure 1) [1].

The radiographic evaluation of suspected or clinically apparent tumors of or near the knee is addressed here, including plain film, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) features and the radiographic appearance of selected tumor-like intraarticular disorders.

The history and physical examination, which are necessary to develop a differential diagnosis prior to the selection of imaging tests, a general review of imaging tests that are used in the evaluation of bone and joint pain, and the use of imaging in the assessment of children and adolescents with knee pain are presented separately. (See "General evaluation of the adult with knee pain" and "Imaging techniques for evaluation of the painful joint" and "Approach to acute knee pain and injury in children and skeletally immature adolescents" and "Approach to chronic knee pain or injury in children or skeletally immature adolescents".)


Plain film radiography, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the mainstays of diagnostic imaging for patients with intraarticular or juxtaarticular bony or soft tissue mass lesions [2]. The following is a brief discussion of the role of each of these modalities in assessing knee tumors and tumor-like disorders.

Plain film radiography — Plain film is the initial modality of choice for detection and assessment of the general features of the tumor. Accuracy of plain film for detection of soft tissue tumors is limited. Plain film is the most valuable method to evaluate the margin between normal bone and a neoplasm that is characteristic of bone tumor (zone of transition). Radiographic features of the zone of transition are important in distinguishing between benign and malignant bone lesions. Plain film radiography also demonstrates the extent of cortical destruction, periosteal reaction, matrix calcifications, and pathological fractures. Certain radiographic patterns, combined with the age of the patient, can be very suggestive of specific tumors.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Sep 14, 2015.
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