Applications of PET in lung cancer

Semin Nucl Med. 1998 Oct;28(4):303-19. doi: 10.1016/s0001-2998(98)80035-4.


An estimated 180,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and lung cancer accounts for approximately 25% of all cancer deaths. The overall 5-year survival rate is 14%, and this has not changed over the past several decades. Lung cancer diagnosis and treatment is a major health problem globally. Most lung cancers are detected initially on chest radiographs, but many benign lesions have radiologic characteristics similar to malignant lesions. Thus, additional studies are required for further evaluation. Computed tomography (CT) is most frequently used to provide additional anatomic and morphologic information about the lesion, but it is limited in distinguishing benign from malignant abnormalities in the lung, pleura, and mediastinum. Because of the indeterminate results from anatomic imaging, biopsy procedures including thoracoscopy and thoracotomy may be used even through one-half of the lesions removed are benign and do not need to be removed. FDG-PET imaging provides physiologic and metabolic information that characterizes lesions that are indeterminate by CT and that accurately stages the distribution of lung cancer. Exploiting the fundamental biochemical differences between cancer and normal tissues, FDG imaging takes advantage of the increased accumulation of FDG in transformed cells. FDG-PET is very sensitive (approximately 95%) for the detection of cancer in patients who have indeterminate lesions on CT. The specificity (approximately 85%) of PET imaging is slightly less than the sensitivity because some inflammatory processes such as active granulomatous infections accumulate FDG avidly. The high-negative predictive value of PET suggests that lesions considered negative on the study are benign, biopsy is not needed, and radiographic follow-up is recommended. Several studies have documented the increased accuracy of PET compared with CT in the evaluation of the hilar and mediastinal lymph node status in patients with lung cancer. If the mediastinum is normal on PET imaging and there is no other evidence of metastatic disease, the patient has a thoracotomy. If the mediastinum is abnormal on PET imaging, mediastinoscopy is performed with the PET images providing the lymph node stations to target. Whole-body PET studies detect metastatic disease that is unsuspected by conventional imaging and demonstrate some of the anatomic abnormalities detected by CT to be benign lesions. Management changes have been reported to occur in up to 41% of patients based on the results of the whole-body studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed* / economics


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18