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Accuracy of MRI scans in predicting intra-articular joint involvement in high-grade sarcomas around the knee

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Intra-articular (IA) tumours around the knee are treated with extra-articular (EA) resection, which is associated with poor functional outcomes. We aim to evaluate the accuracy of MRI in predicting IA involvement around the knee.


We identified 63 cases of high-grade sarcomas in or around the distal femur that underwent an EA resection from a prospectively maintained database (January 1996 to April 2020). Suspicion of IA disease was noted in 52 cases, six had IA pathological fracture, two had an effusion, two had prior surgical intervention (curettage/IA intervention), and one had an osseous metastasis in the proximal tibia. To ascertain validity, two musculoskeletal radiologists (R1, R2) reviewed the preoperative imaging (MRI) of 63 consecutive cases on two occasions six weeks apart. The radiological criteria for IA disease comprised evidence of tumour extension within the suprapatellar pouch, intercondylar notch, extension along medial/lateral retinaculum, and presence of IA fracture. The radiological predictions were then confirmed with the final histopathology of the resected specimens.


The resection histology revealed 23 cases (36.5%) showing IA disease involvement compared with 40 cases without (62%). The intraobserver variability of R1 was 0.85 (p < 0.001) compared to R2 with κ = 0.21 (p = 0.007). The interobserver variability was κ = 0.264 (p = 0.003). Knee effusion was found to be the most sensitive indicator of IA involvement, with a sensitivity of 91.3% but specificity of only 35%. However, when combined with a pathological fracture, this rose to 97.5% and 100% when disease was visible in Hoffa’s fat pad.


MRI imaging can sometimes overestimate IA joint involvement and needs to be correlated with clinical signs. In the light of our findings, we would recommend EA resections when imaging shows effusion combined with either disease in Hoffa’s fat pad or retinaculum, or pathological fractures.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2023;105-B(6):696–701.

Correspondence should be sent to Vineet Kurisunkal. E-mail:

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