Thyroid incidentaloma identified by ¹⁸F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography with CT (FDG-PET/CT): clinical and pathological relevance

L Pagano, M T Samà, F Morani, F Prodam, M Rudoni, R Boldorini, G Valente, P Marzullo, R Baldelli, M Appetecchia, C Isidoro, G Aimaretti
Clinical Endocrinology 2011, 75 (4): 528-34

OBJECTIVE: The percentage of patients with thyroid cancer incidentally diagnosed during a (18) F-fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography with computed tomography (CT) (FDG-PET/CT) for nonthyroid diseases ranges between 26% and 50%.

DESIGN: Retrospective assessment of the clinical and pathological features of thyroid incidentalomas at FDG-PET/CT, aiming to identify potential predictors of malignancy.

PATIENTS: Fifty-two patients with incidental thyroid uptake at FDG-PET/CT were retrospectively included [38 W, age 64·1 ± 12·5 years (mean ± SD)]. An arbitrary cut-off level of 5·0 for the 'maximum standardized uptake value' (SUV max) was chosen to differentiate benign from malignant tumours. Complete thyroid function, neck ultrasonography (US) features, and cyto-histological results were reported for all cases.

RESULTS: In our institution, the prevalence of incidental thyroid (18) F-fluorodeoxyglucose ((18) F-FDG) uptake was nearly 1·76%. The prevalence of focal uptake correlated with greater risk of malignancy (P < 0·01). In particular, the euthyroidism (P < 0·003) and a SUV max >5·0 (P < 0·0001) were associated with the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Diffusely increased FDG-PET/CT uptake in the thyroid was related to benign conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: The presence of focal uptake with high SUV max and euthyroidism correlate with high likelihood of malignancy. Performing a neck US would have to be recommended in all patients with euthyroidism and an incidental FDG-PET/CT focal thyroid uptake. We do not suggest to use FDG-PET/CT as a screening tool for thyroid cancer in the general population, because of both its high cost and low incidence of thyroid incidentaloma at FDG-PET/CT.

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