PET overused for detecting recurrence of lung and esophageal cancers, study finds

March 3, 2016

PET scans don’t appear to improve outcomes when used to detect recurrence of lung and esophageal cancers in patients without symptoms, and the scans may be overused in these cases, a recent study has found.

For the study, published in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers examined the cases of nearly 101,600 lung and esophageal cancer patients from 2005 to 2009 using information from the National Cancer Institutes Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, as well as Medicare claims data on follow-up through 2011. 

...Dr. Ryan Niederkohr, chief of nuclear medicine at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center in California and president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s PET Center of Excellence, said a limitation of the study is that it looked only at poor prognosis cancers.

“I don’t know that we can cross apply the conclusions of this study to all cancer types,” Niederkohr told HCB News. “There may be other cancers where early detection may be valuable.”

With head and neck cancers, for instance, treatment and surgery may be less complicated if the cancer recurrence is discovered earlier, Niederkohr said. The study also relied on data from several years ago. Since then, more targeted therapies, particularly for lung cancer, have been developed.

“I think all oncologists … need to be very mindful in the surveillance setting of when and how frequently imaging is warranted,” Niederkohr said. “That’s not just for PET. That includes CT and MRI. At the same time, we as a community need to reevaluate as new therapies are available.” 

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