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Liver lesion detection and characterization in patients with colorectal cancer: a comparison of low radiation dose non-enhanced PET/CT, contrast-enhanced PET/CT, and liver MRI.

OBJECTIVES: To compare low-radiation dose non-enhanced fluorine 18 fluorodeoxyglucose (F-18 FDG) positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) (NE-PET/CT), contrast-enhanced fluorine 18 fluorodeoxyglucose PET/CT (CE-PET/CT), and gadolinium-enhanced liver magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the detection and characterization of liver lesions in patients with colorectal cancer (CRC).

METHODS: In this retrospective review of imaging database of CRC patients with suspected liver metastases, 33 patients (22 men, 11 women; mean age, 63 years) evaluated with low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT, CE-PET/CT, and liver MRI were studied. The final diagnosis was established either by pathological examination or follow-up imaging over a period of at least 6 months for lesion stability or growth. The liver lesions were characterized on an ordinal scale of 0 to 6 (0 = absent, 1 = definitely benign, and 6 = definitely malignant). Receiver operating characteristic analysis was performed to compare performance of the 3 imaging methods.

RESULTS: A total of 110 lesions were present on follow-up. The detection rate on low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT, CE-PET/CT, and MRI was 73.6%, 90.9%, and 95.4%, respectively. Magnetic resonance imaging (P < 0.001) and CE-PET/CT (P < 0.001) had a higher detection rate than low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT. There was no significant statistical difference in lesion detection between MRI and CE-PET/CT (P = 0.11). The sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy for characterization of detected liver lesions on low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT were 67%, 60%, and 66%, respectively; those on CE-PET/CT were 85%, 100%, and 86%, respectively; and those on MRI were 98%, 100%, and 98%, respectively. Comparative receiver operating characteristic analysis showed an area under curve of 0.74 for low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT, 0.86 for CE-PET/CT, and 0.97 for MRI. There were statistically significant differences in the accuracy of MRI, low-radiation dose NE-PET/CT, and CE-PET/CT for lesion characterization.

CONCLUSIONS: When performing PET/CT, optimal detection and characterization of liver lesions require the use of a fused contrast-enhanced CT. Magnetic resonance imaging and CE-PET/CT have similar lesion detection rates. Magnetic resonance imaging is the best test for liver lesion characterization in patients with CRC.

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