Background: Surgical resection of lung cancer remains the treatment of choice in appropriately staged disease, but conventional imaging techniques have limitations. Positron emission tomography (PET) may improve staging accuracy.
Methods: We studied whole body and localized thoracic PET in staging lung cancer. Standardized uptake value was calculated for the primary lesion. Ninety-seven patients under consideration for surgical resection were included. PET, computed tomography, and clinical staging were compared to stage at operation, biopsy, or final outcome. Mean follow up was 17.5 months.
Results: PET detected all primary lung cancers with two false-positive primary sites. Sensitivity and specificity for N2 and N3 mediastinal disease was 20% and 89.9% for computed tomography and 70.6% and 97% for PET. PET correctly altered stage in 26.8%, nodal stage in 13.4%, and detected distant metastases in 16.5%. PET missed 7 of 10 cerebral metastases. PET altered management in 37% of patients. PET staging (p<0.0001) and standardized uptake value (p<0.001) were the best predictors of time to death apart from operative staging.
Conclusions: PET provides significant staging and prognostic information in lung cancer patients considered operable by standard criteria. Routine use of PET will prevent unnecessary operation and may be cost effective.