The purpose of this study was to establish practical diagnostic criteria to differentiate colonic diverticulitis from colon cancer by computed tomography (CT) in the emergency department (ER).
Helical CT scans of 40 patients admitted to the ER with the clinical diagnosis of diverticulitis and 14 patients diagnosed with colon cancer were retrospectively reviewed. In total, 18 imaging parameters were analyzed and were compared between the 2 groups of patients.
Thirteen parameters were found to be statistically significant for the diagnosis of colonic diverticulitis in excluding colon cancer: pericolic infiltration (p < 0.001); presence of lymph nodes (p < 0.001); inflamed diverticula (p = 0.001); non-inflamed diverticula (p = 0.001); degree of enhancement (p = 0.001); intestinal obstruction (p = 0.001); involved wall thickness (p = 0.005); lymph node size (p = 0.007); fascial thickening (p = 0.009); pattern of enhancement (p = 0.012); involved length (p = 0.014); free air (p = 0.035); and abscess formation (p = 0.042). Among these parameters, the most valuable imaging findings for diverticulitis were the presence of non-inflamed diverticulum, inflamed diverticulum, mild degree of enhancement, and small lymph node size. Three were found to have high specificity but low sensitivity: target enhancement pattern; abscess formation; and free air. When colonic obstruction is present, colon cancer is more likely than diverticulitis.
Specific CT criteria help to differentiate colonic diverticulitis from colon cancer. CT scan with intravenous contrast administration would be the best noninvasive imaging modality in the ER for the accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of such disease.