Detection efficiency of 18 f-flourodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography for primary tumors in patients with carcinoma of unknown primary

Document Type



Radiology; Radiation Oncology


Carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP) is defined as biopsy proven tumor metastases that remains unidentified after a thorough diagnostic evaluation. The purpose of this study was to find the detection efficiency of 18F-flourodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography (18FDG PET/CT) in patients with CUP. This prospective study was conducted at PET/CT Section of Department of Radiology, Aga Khan University Hospital Karachi, Pakistan from August 2017 to January 2018. Patients with a history of CUP referred for 18FDG PET/CT scan for detection of primary sites during the study were recruited. 18FDG PET/CT scan was acquired using standardized protocol, and patients with suspected primary sites underwent biopsies. Scan findings and biopsy results were analyzed to find the detection rate, sensitivity, area under curve (AUC), and positive predictive value (PPV). As no biopsy was performed in negative scan, true negative, and specificity could not be calculated. During the study, 46 consecutive patients with CUP were included. Mean age of cohort was 58 ± 17 years (63% male and 37% female) having a mean body mass index of 24.70 ± 4.97 kg/m2. Thirty-four patients (34/46) found to have a hypermetabolic focus suggestive of the primary tumor with known metastatic sites and subjected to biopsy which turned out to be positive in 26/34 patients (true positive). The primary tumor was detected in gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary in 8 (17%), head and neck in 6 (13%), genitourinary 4 (09%), lung 3 (06%), and miscellaneous sites in 5 (11%) patients. Detection rate, sensitivity and PPV of 18FDG PET/CT were 57%, 68%, and 76%, respectively. Remaining 12/46 patients with negative 18FDG PET/CT for primary focus did not have biopsy. Receiver operating character curve revealed fair diagnostic strength of 18FDG PET/CT for detecting unknown primary (AUC 0.667; P = 0.054; standard error = 0.083; confidence interval: 0.504-0.830). We conclude that 18FDG PET/CT is an effective tool for detecting primary tumor in patients with CUP and its upfront use could preclude the use of many futile diagnostic procedures. Furthermore, higher resolution scanners and acquiring delayed images in patients with negative study could reduce false-negative results in patients with CUP.

Publication (Name of Journal)

World journal of nuclear medicine