Locoregional lymph node involvement on 18F-FDG PET/CT in breast cancer patients scheduled for neoadjuvant chemotherapy

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Aug;135(1):231-40. doi: 10.1007/s10549-012-2179-1. Epub 2012 Jul 28.


The optimal method for locoregional staging in patients treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC), usually ultrasound (US) and pre- or post-chemotherapy sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), remains subject of debate. The aim of this study was to assess the value of 18F-FDG PET/CT for detecting locoregional lymph node metastases in primary breast cancer patients scheduled for NAC. 311 breast cancer patients, scheduled for NAC, underwent PET/CT of the thorax in prone position with hanging breasts. A panel of four experienced reviewers examined PET/CT images, blinded for other diagnostic procedures. FDG uptake in locoregional nodes was determined qualitatively using a 4-point scale (0 = negative, 1 = questionable, 2 = moderately intense, and 3 = very intense). Results were compared with pathology obtained by US-guided fine needle aspiration or SLNB prior to NAC. All FDG-avid extra-axillary nodes were considered metastatic, based on the previously reported high positive predictive value of the technique. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value, and accuracy of FDG-avid nodes for the detection of axillary metastases (score 2 or 3) were 82, 92, 98, 53, and 84 %, respectively. Of 28 patients with questionable axillary FDG uptake (score 1), 23 (82 %) were node-positive. Occult lymph node metastases in the internal mammary chain and periclavicular area were detected in 26 (8 %) and 32 (10 %) patients, respectively, resulting in changed regional radiotherapy planning in 50 (16 %) patients. In breast cancer patients scheduled for NAC, PET/CT renders pre-chemotherapy SLNB unnecessary in case of an FDG-avid axillary node, enables axillary response monitoring during or after NAC, and leads to changes in radiotherapy for a substantial number of patients because of detection of occult N3-disease. Based on these results, we recommend a PET/CT as a standard staging procedure in breast cancer patients scheduled for NAC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / diagnosis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multimodal Imaging*
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Young Adult


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18