The role of single-photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography in benign and malignant bone disease

Semin Nucl Med. 2006 Oct;36(4):286-94. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2006.05.001.


Radiological (plain radiographs, computed tomography [CT], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) and nuclear medicine methods (bone scan, leukocyte scan) both provide unique information about the status of the skeleton. Both have typical strengths and weaknesses, which often lead to the sequential use of different procedures in daily routine. This use causes the unnecessary loss of time and sometimes money, if redundant information is obtained without establishing a final diagnosis. Recently, new devices for hybrid imaging (single-photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography [SPECT/CT], positron emission tomography/computed tomography [PET/CT]) were introduced, which allow for direct fusion of morphological (CT) and functional (SPECT, PET) data sets. With regard to skeletal abnormalities, this approach appears to be extremely useful because it combines the advantages of both techniques (high-resolution imaging of bone morphology and high sensitivity imaging of bone metabolism). By the accurate correlation of both, a new quality of bone imaging has now become accessible. Although researchers undertaking the initial studies exclusively used low-dose CT equipment, a new generation of SPECT/CT devices has emerged recently. By integrating high-resolution spiral CT, quality of bone imaging may improve once more. Ongoing prospective studies will have to show whether completely new diagnostic algorithms will come up for classification of bone disease as a consequence of this development. Besides, the role of ultrasonography and MRI for bone and soft-tissue imaging also will have to be re-evaluated. Looking at the final aim of all imaging techniques--to achieve correct diagnosis in a fast, noninvasive, comprehensive, and inexpensive way--we are now on the edge of a new era of multimodality imaging that will probably change the paths and structure of medicine in many ways. Presently, hybrid imaging using SPECT/CT has been proven to increase sensitivity and specificity of bone scintigraphy. This was mainly achieved by identifying benign bone conditions with increased bone turnover. Therefore, SPECT/CT should be applied whenever equivocal findings of planar bone imaging occur. It also helps to improve accuracy of leukocyte scanning to detect/exclude osteomyelitis and to define sites of inflammation. We therefore regard SPECT/CT as a valuable tool to optimize bone imaging, which might become even more important if new radiopharmaceuticals become available to image specific cell functions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Subtraction Technique*
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / trends
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / trends