Our current meta-analysis demonstrated that sonoelastography showed a pooled sensitivity of 0.67 (95% CI 0.59–0.74) and specificity of 0.64 (95% CI 0.60–0.68) for differential diagnosis between malignant and benign parotid lesions. The pooled DOR was 8.00 (95% CI 2.96–21.63) and the AUC was 0.77. The meta-regression analysis results revealed that the assessment method was a significant factor affecting study heterogeneity (p = 0.035). However, the summary estimates did not differ between SE and SWE (p = 0.119) or between ARFI and SSI (p = 0.473).
Recently, several original studies have focused on the value of sonoelastography for differentiating between malignant and benign parotid lesions. Sonoelastography is a novel ultrasonographic technique for assessing tissue elasticity and stiffness. Theoretically, malignant parotid tumours should be stiffer than benign ones. However, the situation seems complicated. Some authors have described the great performance of sonoelastography for differentiating between malignant and benign lesions with a high sensitivity of 94% and a specificity of 89% . Some have described a relatively lower but still clear performance of sonoelastography, with a sensitivity of 70% and specificity of 66% . However, others have described that there was no benefit of sonoelastography for differentiating between malignant and benign tumours; only cystic lesions or cystic areas within a lesion were reliably identified . Our meta-analysis ultimately revealed a pooled sensitivity of 67% and a pooled specificity of 64% for differentiating between malignant and benign parotid lesions. Therefore, we believe that the overall value of sonoelastography for differential diagnosis was limited and not satisfactory.
Heterogeneity was revealed in our study. Therefore, a meta-regression analysis was performed to further explore the potential sources. The results showed that there was no difference between SE and SWE or between ARFI and SSI. However, the assessment method was a significant factor affecting study heterogeneity. Quantitative and semiquantitative methods performed better than qualitative ones. In this subgroup, there was a higher pooled sensitivity of 0.73, specificity of 0.83, DOR of 18.64 and an AUC of 0.88. This was probably because qualitative methods were usually performed with a scoring system that was subjectively used by operators and was thus more operator-dependent. However, semiquantitative and quantitative methods were automatically calculated by an ultrasound machine and were thus less operator-dependent.
Another potential source of heterogeneity might be the histopathological variety in malignant and benign parotid lesions. Celebi and Mahmutoglu  indicated that the diagnostic value of sonoelastography for evaluating pleomorphic adenomas, Warthin tumours, adenoid cystic carcinoma and high-grade tumours was low, whereas the diagnostic rates for low-grade tumours, such as mucoepidermoid carcinoma, acinic cell carcinoma and metastases of basal cell carcinoma, were better. Pleomorphic adenomas contained variable proportions of chondroid and/or myxoid matrix, which contained different amounts of fluid. Warthin tumours contained different amounts of lymphatic, cellular, mucous and fluid components. Thus, the two types of benign tumours could be solid, solid and cystic, or completely cystic, which resulted in a wide variety in stiffness. In a small sample study of 20 patients with only pleomorphic adenomas included in the benign group, 50% (6/12) of the adenomas were misdiagnosed as malignancies . We tried to analyse whether sonoelastography could differentiate between low-grade parotid tumours and high-grade and benign ones. We also tried to analyse the effects of the different components in pleomorphic adenomas and Warthin tumours on sonoelastography. However, both of these analyses were not accomplished because, in most of the studies, the data were not recorded.
A strict procedure was carried out to screen the articles and ultimately 10 relative studies were identified. Deeks’ funnel plots showed no significant publication bias. Most of the studies were high quality according to the QUADAS questionnaire. A meta-regression revealed that the QUADAS score was not a significant factor affecting study heterogeneity. However, the QUADAS score seemed to perform better in relatively lower quality studies, as shown in Table 4. In one study , it was unclear whether the observers knew the histopathological results before analysing the images. In another study, the observers were aware of histological properties before reviewing the images and videos . These unblinded studies probably had better performance and influenced the results. In addition, in all the studies it was unclear whether the histopathology reviewer knew the results of sonoelastography evaluations, which probably caused heterogeneity and influenced the results as well. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis to assess the diagnostic value of sonoelastography merely for differentiating between malignant and benign parotid lesions, except for salivary gland masses .
There are some limitations in our study. First, relatively few studies were included (i.e. ten). Second, we failed to acquire unpublished data and language limitations might have affected the reliability of the results. Third, postoperative pathology was used as a reference standard for tumour detection in most of the studies in this meta-analysis; however, in one study , only cytological and histological results from ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsy were used as reference standards, and in another two studies, cytology results from ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration were used in six cases  and two cases , respectively. Although cytology and histology of fine-needle aspiration biopsy are suggested diagnostic methods for most parotid tumours, these methods have variable success with sensitivity ranging from 57% to 98%, specificity ranging from 56% to 100% and accuracy ranging from 78% to 98% .
In conclusion, this meta-analysis shows that sonoelastography has a limited value for differential diagnosis between malignant and benign parotid lesions. Quantitative and semiquantitative methods performed better than qualitative ones. Further large-sample, prospective, multicentre studies evaluating these two assessment methods are needed to confirm the findings. In addition, more studies should focus on the correlation between sonoelastography and corresponding histopathological changes in the future.