Imaging of oncologic patients: benefit of combined CT and FDG PET in the diagnosis of malignancy

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1998 Oct;171(4):1103-10. doi: 10.2214/ajr.171.4.9763005.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess the benefit of combined CT and 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) in diagnosing malignancy.

Materials and methods: The records of 26 patients with intraabdominal and intrathoracic neoplasms who underwent CT and FDG PET between January 1995 and September 1996 were retrospectively reviewed. Most of these patients had inconclusive findings on prior CT for the diagnosis of malignancy. Only sites of potential malignant disease were included in the data analysis. Presence or absence of malignancy was confirmed by histopathology or follow-up CT. Three observers experienced in abdominal imaging used CT findings alone to estimate level of suspicion (1 = definitely not malignant to 5 = definitely malignant) for primary or recurrent neoplasms (n = 21), distant metastases (n = 25), and neoplastic nodal involvement (n = 18). Six weeks later the three observers reviewed the same CT examinations supplemented with FDG PET and reestimated suspicion of malignancy. Receiver operating characteristic methodology was used to analyze the results. Sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, and accuracy in diagnosis of malignant disease were calculated using level 4 (probable malignancy) as the cutoff for the presence of disease.

Results: The mean area under the receiver operating characteristic curve, indicating successful diagnosis of malignancy, was .82 for CT alone and .92 for CT with FDG PET (p < .05). The accuracies for diagnosis of primary or recurrent neoplasms, distant metastases, and neoplastic nodal involvement were 62%, 68%, and 83%, respectively, for CT alone and 81% (p = .06), 88% (p = .03), and 89% (p > .25), respectively, for CT with FDG PET. Also, supplemental FDG PET imaging improved observer confidence and accuracy in diagnosing recurrent neoplasm in four (36%) of 11 patients who had undergone surgery or chemoradiation and in diagnosing four (29%) of 14 extrahepatic sites that had potential metastases.

Conclusion: Diagnosis of malignancy in oncologic patients is significantly improved when CT is supplemented with FDG PET. Combined imaging is particularly helpful in the evaluation of potential recurrence in previously treated patients and for diagnosing extrahepatic lesions that may be distant metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Abdominal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fluorine Radioisotopes
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnostic imaging
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / epidemiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • ROC Curve
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thoracic Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thoracic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*


  • Fluorine Radioisotopes
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18