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Mesenteric rheumatoid nodules masquerading as an intra-abdominal malignancy: a case report and review of the literature



Rheumatoid nodules are the most common extra-articular findings in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They occur most commonly at pressure points such as the extensor surfaces of the forearms, fingers, and occiput, but have also been reported to occur in unusual locations including the central nervous system, pericardium, pleura, and sclera. We present the unusual case of rheumatoid nodules in the small bowel mesentery masquerading as an intra-abdominal malignancy.

Case presentation

A 65-year-old-male with a known history of longstanding erosive, nodular, seropositive rheumatoid arthritis was incidentally found to have a mesenteric mass on computed tomography (CT) exam of the abdomen. This mass had not been present on prior imaging studies and was worrisome for a malignancy. Attempts at noninvasive biopsy were nondiagnostic but consistent with a "spindle" cell neoplasm. Laparotomy revealed extensive thickening and fibrosis of the small bowel mesentery along with large, firm nodules throughout the mesentery. A limited bowel resection including a large, partially obstructing, nodule was performed. Pathology was consistent with an unusual presentation of rheumatoid nodules in the mesentery of the small bowel.


Rheumatoid nodules should be considered in the differential diagnosis of a patient who presents with an intra-abdominal mass and a history of rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, no tests or imaging modality can discriminate with sufficient accuracy to rule out a malignancy in this difficult diagnostic delimma. Hopefully, this case will serve as impetus for further study and biomarker discovery to allow for improved diagnostic power.

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