Atypical bilateral ventilation/perfusion mismatches in an asymptomatic patient suffering from metastatic thyroid cancer

Background: Pulmonary embolism is indicated by ventilation/perfusion (V/P) mismatches in ventilation/perfusion scintigraphy. However, other pathologies may also evoke segmental or lobar mismatches. Thus, diagnosis can be difficult in asymptomatic patients with equivocal clinical presentation.

Case presentation: We present a case of multiple bilateral pulmonary ventilation/perfusion mismatches in a poorly differentiated thyroid cancer patient. Exact diagnosis was difficult, as the patient was asymptomatic and pulmonary embolism is commonly unilateral in tumour patients and not typical for thyroid cancer. External pulmonary artery compression by aortic aneurysm, multiple metastases or additional bronchopulmonary malignancies were considered as differential diagnosis. After unilateral pulmonary and hilar metastasectomy, perfusion normalised on the operated side. Pulmonary perfusion defects due to pulmonary artery compression by hilar metastases were finally diagnosed. Pulmonary embolism was deemed unlikely due to the left-sided post-operative normalisation, persistence of right-sided V/P mismatches, and the lack of clinical symptoms.

Conclusion: Pulmonary artery compression may mimic pulmonary artery embolism in lung perfusion scintigraphy and should be considered in bronchopulmonary tumour patients with hilar metastases and unilateral ventilation/perfusion mismatches affecting a complete lobe or even lung. Following the presented case, also bilateral segmental and subsegmental mismatches in patients with hilar metastases from non-bronchopulmonary cancer entities should be carefully evaluated.


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