PET scans’ impact on cancer care confirmed

A national review has revealed that positron emission tomography (PET) scans of cancer patients led clinicians to change treatment plans for more than one third of the patients, scientists reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers analyzed data on nearly 23,000 cancer patients nationwide to obtain the results. The data came from the National Oncologic PET Registry (NOPR), which compiled information from more than 1,200 imaging centers.

Study authors, including Barry A. Siegel, M.D., professor of medicine and of radiology, plan to cite the findings as proof that PET scans can make positive contributions to cancer care. Siegel and others will use the results to advocate for expanded Medicare coverage of PET scans for different types of cancers.

“Based on this data, Medicare should strongly consider opening up its coverage of these scans to include their use in diagnosis, staging and restaging for all cancers,” said Siegel, who is chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology and a member of the Siteman Cancer Center.

The NOPR gathers data from referring physicians on intended patient management before and after PET scans that use the radioactive imaging agent fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). The imaging agent helps highlight differences between healthy and diseased tissue.

Analysis of the data showed that FDG-PET is associated with a 36.5 percent change in the decision of whether or how to treat a patient’s cancer. After FDG-PET scans, physicians were able to determine that biopsies were unnecessary for nearly three in every four patients originally scheduled to receive such procedures.