Diffuse tenosynovial giant cell tumor

Last revised by Ashesh Ishwarlal Ranchod on 4 May 2024

Diffuse tenosynovial giant cell tumor is an uncommon benign condition, which is most commonly monoarticular (~70% knee joint), but occasionally, it can be polyarticular. 

Please see the overview article tenosynovial giant cell tumor for content common to both the localized type and diffuse type.

Diffuse tenosynovial giant tumors occur predominantly in early middle age (<40 years) 1,2,11. In intra-articular disease, there is no gender predilection, whereas extra-articular disease has a slight female predominance ref.

Presentation usually involves joint swelling, pain and reduced range of motion 11. Hemarthrosis is common 11. Usually, symptoms have been present for many months or years before the diagnosis is made.

Although unusual in the pediatric population, it is sometimes seen and is more frequently poly-articular. It has also been described in association with 2:

Typically diffuse tenosynovial giant cell tumors are a monoarticular and joints with large synovial surfaces are predictably most frequently affected with the knee being the most frequently affected (~75%) followed by the hip (~10%), ankle, shoulder, elbow, facet joints, and rarely other joints (e.g. temporomandibular joint) 2,6,11.

Macroscopically, diffuse tenosynovial giant cell tumors are large (>5 cm) and are firm and sponge-like. When intra-articular, a villous pattern is usually present, and when extra-articular there are multiple nodular projections. Their color is typically dark brown and heterogeneous with areas of yellow discolouration (xanthoma cells) 11.

See main tenosynovial giant cell tumor article.

On radiographs, features are relatively nonspecific with appearances mainly being those of a joint effusion. Bone density and joint space are preserved until the late stages. No calcification is seen. Extrinsic marginal pressure erosions may be present. There may be suggestion of focal areas of soft tissue swelling surrounding the joint +/- dense soft-tissues from hemosiderin deposition. 

Joint effusions commonly co-exist. The hypertrophic synovium appears as a soft tissue mass, which on account of hemosiderin, may appear slightly hyperdense compared to adjacent muscle. Calcification is very rare in the synovial mass (cf. synovial sarcoma where it is common). Erosions are often well seen on CT.

MRI typically shows mass-like synovial proliferation with lobulated or ill-defined margins. This may be extensive in the diffuse form 9 with low signal intensity due to hemosiderin deposition.

  • T1: low to intermediate signal

  • T2

    • low to an intermediate signal

    • some areas of a high signal may be present likely due to joint fluid or inflamed synovium

  • STIR: predominantly high signal 2

  • GE: low and may demonstrate blooming

  • T1 C+ (Gd): variable enhancement

Treatment is with complete synovectomy, which offers a good prospect of cure, provided all the synovium is excised. This can be difficult and therefore adjuvant treatment is often employed, especially external beam radiotherapy which offers excellent control. Intra-articular injection of yttrium-90 is an alternative 12. Recurrence rates are reported to be ~35% (range 7-60%) 2,11.

The differentials include:

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