Diagnostic and clinical features of lung cancer associated with cystic airspaces
“Lung cancer associated with cystic airspaces” is an uncommon manifestation, in which lung cancer presents on imaging studies with a cystic area with associated consolidation and/or ground glass. With the widespread use of computed tomography (CT), both in clinical practice and for lung cancer screening, these tumors are being more frequently recognized. An association of this entity with smoking has been established with the majority of cases reported being in former and current smokers. The true pathogenesis of the cystic airspace is not yet fully understood. Different causes of this cystic airspace have been described, including a check-valve mechanism obstructing the small airways, lepidic growth of adenocarcinoma on emphysematous lung parenchyma, cyst formation of tumor and tumor growth along the wall of a pre-existing bulla. Adenocarcinoma is the commonest histological type, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Two classification systems have been described, based on morphological features of the lesion, taking into account both the cystic airspace as well as the morphology of the surrounding consolidation or ground glass. The cystic component may mislead radiologists to a benign etiology and the many different faces on imaging can make early diagnosis challenging. Special attention should be made to focal or diffuse wall thickening and consolidation or ground glass abutting or interspersed with cystic airspaces. Despite their atypical morphology, staging and management currently are still similar to that of other lung cancer types. Although the rarity of this entity will hamper larger studies, numerous aspects regarding this particular lung cancer type still need to be unraveled. This manuscript reviews the CT-imaging findings and gives an overview of available data in the English literature on pathogenesis, histopathology and clinical findings. Differential diagnosis and pitfalls are discussed as well as future directions regarding staging and management.