Preoperative intrathoracic lymph node staging in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer: accuracy of integrated positron emission tomography and computed tomography

Andrea Billé, Ettore Pelosi, Andrea Skanjeti, Vincenzo Arena, Luca Errico, Piero Borasio, Maurizio Mancini, Francesco Ardissone
European Journal of Cardio-thoracic Surgery 2009, 36 (3): 440-5

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the accuracy of integrated positron emission tomography with 18F-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG) and computed tomography (PET/CT) in preoperative intrathoracic lymph node staging in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and to ascertain the role of invasive staging in verifying positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) results.

METHODS: Retrospective, single institution study of consecutive patients with suspected or pathologically proven, potentially resectable NSCLC undergoing integrated PET/CT scanning in the same PET centre. Lymph node staging was pathologically confirmed on tissue specimens obtained at mediastinoscopy and/or thoracotomy. Statistical evaluation of PET/CT results was performed on a per-patient and per-nodal-station bases.

RESULTS: A total of 1001 nodal stations (723 mediastinal, 148 hilar and 130 intrapulmonary) were evaluated in 159 patients. Nodes were positive for malignancy in 48 (30.2%) out of 159 patients (N1=17; N2=30; N3=1) and 71 (7.1%) out of 1001 nodal stations (N1=24; N2=46; N3=1). At univariate analysis, lymph node involvement was significantly associated (p<0.05) with the following primary tumour characteristics: increasing diameter, maximum standardised uptake value >9, central location and presence of vascular invasion. PET/CT staged the disease correctly in 128 out of 159 patients (80.5%), overstaging occurred in nine patients (5.7%) and understaging in 22 patients (13.8%). The overall sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, and accuracy of PET/CT for detecting metastatic lymph nodes were 54.2%, 91.9%, 74.3%, 82.3% and 80.5% on a per-patient basis, and 57.7%, 98.5%, 74.5%, 96.8% and 95.6% on per-nodal-station basis. With regard to N2/N3 disease, PET/CT accuracy was 84.9% and 95.3% on a per-patient basis and on per-nodal-station basis, respectively. Referring to nodal size, PET/CT sensitivity to detect malignant involvement was 32.4% (12/37) in nodes <10mm, and 85.3% (29/34) in nodes > or = 10mm.

CONCLUSION: Our data show that integrated PET/CT provides high specificity but low sensitivity and accuracy in intrathoracic nodal staging of NSCLC patients and underscore the continued need for surgical staging.

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