Objectives: The American College of Surgeons Oncology Group undertook a trial to ascertain whether positron emission tomography with 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose could detect lesions that would preclude pulmonary resection in a group of patients with documented or suspected non-small cell lung cancer found to be surgical candidates by routine staging procedures.
Methods: A total of 303 eligible patients registered from 22 institutions underwent positron emission tomography after routine staging (computed tomography of chest and upper abdomen, bone scintigraphy, and brain imaging) had deemed their tumors resectable. Positive findings required confirmatory procedures.
Results: Positron emission tomography was significantly better than computed tomography for the detection of N1 and N2/N3 disease (42% vs 13%, P =.0177, and 58% vs 32%, P =.0041, respectively). The negative predictive value of positron emission tomography for mediastinal node disease was 87%. Unsuspected metastatic disease or second primary malignancy was identified in 18 of 287 patients (6.3%). Distant metastatic disease indicated in 19 of 287 patients (6.6%) was subsequently shown to be benign. By correctly identifying advanced disease (stages IIIA, IIIB, and IV) or benign lesions, positron emission tomography potentially avoided unnecessary thoracotomy in 1 of 5 patients.
Conclusions: In patients with suspected or proven non-small cell lung cancer considered resectable by standard staging procedures, positron emission tomography can prevent nontherapeutic thoracotomy in a significant number of cases. Use of positron emission tomography for mediastinal staging should not be relied on as a sole staging modality, and positive findings should be confirmed by mediastinoscopy. Metastatic disease, especially a single site, identified by positron emission tomography requires further confirmatory evaluation.