A critical appraisal of the performance, reporting, and interpretation of studies comparing carotid plaque imaging with histology.
Lovett JK., Redgrave JN., Rothwell PM.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Carotid plaque instability is an important determinant of stroke risk. There are now a number of different imaging techniques that provide information on carotid plaque morphology. However, it is unclear how they compare with one another or whether they can reliably assess plaque instability. Studies comparing imaging with pathology have shown highly variable results, even for similar imaging techniques. This may be because of variable pathology techniques rather than differences in imaging. METHODS: We performed a systematic review of studies that compared carotid imaging with histology of the excised plaque published between January 1995 and September 2004. We assessed the quality and comparability of these studies. In particular, we determined which histology methods were used and whether observer reproducibility of the histology assessment was reported. RESULTS: Among 73 eligible studies, histological methods were poorly reported and highly variable; 23% reported reproducibility data for imaging and only 12% reported reproducibility data for histology. Of 29 studies that reported quantitative results of blinded comparisons, there were methodological deficiencies and the results were highly variable. No study considered the extent to which the lack of reproducibility influenced the imaging-pathological correlations reported. CONCLUSIONS: Pathological correlation in studies of carotid plaque imaging cannot be reliably interpreted or compared because of incomparable and poorly reported histology methods. We make recommendations for the performance, reporting, and interpretation of imaging-pathological correlation studies and highlight the need for consensus guidelines.