Official reprint from UpToDate®
www.uptodate.com ©2017 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

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 "Approach to the adult with unspecified 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.

To continue reading this article, you must log in with your personal, hospital, or group practice subscription. For more information on subscription options, click below on the option that best describes you:

Subscribers log in here

Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Jan 18, 2017.
The content on the UpToDate website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. The use of this website is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use ©2017 UpToDate, Inc.
  1. Frick MA, Wenger DE, Adkins M. MR imaging of synovial disorders of the knee: an update. Radiol Clin North Am 2007; 45:1017.
  2. http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/PrimaryBoneTumors.pdf (Accessed on March 12, 2014).
  3. Larbi A, Viala P, Cyteval C, et al. Imaging of tumors and tumor-like lesions of the knee. Diagn Interv Imaging 2016; 97:767.
  4. Perdikakis E, Skiadas V. MRI characteristics of cysts and "cyst-like" lesions in and around the knee: what the radiologist needs to know. Insights Imaging 2013; 4:257.
  5. Murphey MD, Vidal JA, Fanburg-Smith JC, Gajewski DA. Imaging of synovial chondromatosis with radiologic-pathologic correlation. Radiographics 2007; 27:1465.
  6. Beall DP, Ly JQ, Wolff JD, et al. Cystic masses of the knee: magnetic resonance imaging findings. Curr Probl Diagn Radiol 2005; 34:143.
  7. McKenzie G, Raby N, Ritchie D. A pictorial review of primary synovial osteochondromatosis. Eur Radiol 2008; 18:2662.
  8. Vilanova JC, Barceló J, Villalón M, et al. MR imaging of lipoma arborescens and the associated lesions. Skeletal Radiol 2003; 32:504.
  9. Subhas N, Bui KL, Sundaram M, et al. Incidental tumor and tumor-like lesions around the knee. Semin Musculoskelet Radiol 2009; 13:353.
  10. Kransdorf MJ, Peterson JJ, Bancroft LW. MR imaging of the knee: incidental osseous lesions. Radiol Clin North Am 2007; 45:943.
  11. Resnick D. Tumor and tumor-like lesions of bone: Imaging and pathology of specific lesions. In: Diagnosis of Bone and Joint Disorders, 4th, 2002. Vol 4, p.3763.
  12. Taylor JA, Hughes TH, Resnick D. Part III: Pelvis and lower extremities, knee. In: Skeletal Imaging: Atlas of the Spine and Extremities, 2009. p.547.
  13. Butler MG, Fuchigami KD, Chako A. MRI of posterior knee masses. Skeletal Radiol 1996; 25:309.
  14. Fletcher CDM, Chibon F, Mertens F. Undifferentiated/unclassified sarcomas. In: WHO classifiction of tumours of soft tissue and bone, 4th, Fletcher CDM, Bridge JA, Hogendoorn PCW, Mertens F (Eds), IARC, Lyon 2013. p.236.
  15. van Vliet M, Kliffen M, Krestin GP, van Dijke CF. Soft tissue sarcomas at a glance: clinical, histological, and MR imaging features of malignant extremity soft tissue tumors. Eur Radiol 2009; 19:1499.