Background: Conventional radiography remains part of the diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis and determines qualification for biologic disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs in many countries. The standard anteroposterior radiograph (XR) incompletely images the complex sacroiliac joint with recognised unacceptably low levels of agreement between readers. Digital tomosynthesis (DTS) uses conventional radiographic projections to create a three-dimensional image and is a potential alternative for the initial radiographic detection and grading of sacroiliitis.
Objectives: To compare the level of agreement between two radiologists when reporting sacroiliac joint imaging with digital tomosynthesis versus conventional radiography, as well as to compare the diagnostic accuracy of each imaging modality.
Methods: 229 consecutive patients that had radiography and digital tomosynthesis performed at Footscray Hospital, Melbourne, Australia were included. Two blinded radiologists independently re-reported all images according to the modified New York criteria, or listed an alternative diagnosis. An overall assessment of each image as inflammatory sacroiliitis, normal or non-inflammatory disease was also recorded. Demographic and clinical data were extracted from medical records. Agreement between and within readers was evaluated using kappa (κ) statistic. Diagnostic accuracy was calculated by comparing each reader’s overall assessment against 2 reference standard comparators: most recent rheumatologist diagnosis and fulfillment of ASAS criteria at any time point.
Results: The intra-reader agreement of reader 1 was almost perfect for the left, right and overall sacroiliac joint assessments (κ 0.77 - 0.94), with DTS outperforming XR. Reader 2 agreement was mostly moderate (κ 0.39 - 0.69), with DTS and XR better on the left and right sacroiliac joint respectively, but XR having better overall assessment. The inter-reader agreement of DTS for all patients was moderate and better than XR as shown in the Table. When excluding non-spondyloarthritis patients, inter-reader agreement improved (κ 0.50 to 0.58) but there was no significant difference between DTS and XR. Using reader 1, the sensitivity of DTS (64.8 - 66.7%) was better than XR (54.9 - 60.7%) but low, in keeping with what is known about radiographic sacroiliitis and axial spondyloarthritis. The specificity of XR (78.5 – 80.3%) was better than DTS (72.3 – 73.1%). There were no significant differences when fulfillment of modified New York Criteria was used as a reader’s positive test.
Conclusion: DTS demonstrated moderate reliability for assessment of sacroiliitis, marginally better than conventional radiography. Overall levels of agreement for both imaging modalities were however lower than radiography in previous studies, with several possible contributing factors. A prospective study in a selected spondyloarthritis cohort may better determine any benefit of DTS.
References: Christiansen AA, Hendricks O, Kuettel D, Horslev-Petersen K, Jurik AG, Nielsen S, et al. Limited Reliability of Radiographic Assessment of Sacroiliac Joints in Patients with Suspected Early Spondyloarthritis. The Journal of rheumatology. 2017;44(1):70-7.
van Tubergen A, Heuft-Dorenbosch L, Schulpen G, Landewe R, Wijers R, van der Heijde D, et al. Radiographic assessment of sacroiliitis by radiologists and rheumatologists: does training improve quality? Annals of the rheumatic diseases. 2003;62(6):519-25.
Disclosure of Interests: None declared
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