Rationale and objectives: The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the performance of fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) in the differential diagnosis of benign from malignant lesions among patients with abnormal mammograms or a palpable breast mass and to examine the effects of PET findings on patient care and health outcomes.
Materials and methods: A search of the MEDLINE and CancerLit databases covered articles entered between January 1966 and March 2001. Thirteen articles met the selection criteria. Each article was assessed for study quality characteristics. Meta-analysis was performed with a random effects model and a summary receiver operating characteristic curve.
Results: A point on the summary receiver operating characteristic curve was selected that reflected average performance, with an estimated sensitivity of 89% and a specificity of 80%. When the prevalence of malignancy is 50%, 40% of all patients would benefit by avoiding the harm of a biopsy with negative biopsy results. The risk of a false-negative result, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment, is 5.5%. The negative predictive value is 87.9%; thus, the false-negative risk is 12.1%. For a patient with a negative PET scan, a 12% chance of missed or delayed diagnosis of breast cancer is probably too high to make it worth the 88% chance of avoiding biopsy of a benign lesion.
Conclusion: The evidence does not favor the use of fluorodeoxyglucose PET to help decide whether to perform biopsy. Available studies omit a critical segment of the biopsy population with indeterminate mammograms or nonpalpable masses, for which no conclusions can be reached.