18F-FDG PET/CT diagnostic performance in solitary and multiple pulmonary nodules detected in patients with previous cancer history: reports of 182 nodules

  • Silvia Taralli
  • Valentina Scolozzi
  • Massimiliano Foti
  • Sara Ricciardi
  • Anna Rita Forcione
  • Giuseppe Cardillo
  • Maria Lucia CalcagniEmail author
Original Article



In oncological patients, 18F-FDG PET/CT performance for pulmonary nodules’ characterization is not well-established. Thus, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the 18F-FDG PET/CT diagnostic performance in pulmonary nodules detected during follow-up in oncological patients and the relationship between malignancy and nodules’ characteristics.


We retrospectively evaluated 182 pulmonary nodules (121 solitary, 61 multiple; mean size = 16.5 ± 8.1 mm, mean SUVmax = 5.2 ± 5.1) in 148 oncological patients (89 males; mean age = 69.5 ± 8.4 years). Final diagnosis was established by histology or radiological follow-up. Diagnostic performance of 18F-FDG visual analysis (malignancy-criterion: uptake ≥ mediastinal activity), ROC curve analysis for SUVmax and nodules’ characteristics were assessed.


In 182 nodules, the prevalence of malignancy was 75.8%; PET/CT provided sensitivity = 79%, specificity = 81.8%, accuracy = 79.7%, PPV = 93.1%, NPV = 55.4%; ROC analysis (SUVmax cut-off = 1.7) provided sensitivity = 85.5%, specificity = 72.7%. In 121 solitary nodules, the prevalence of malignancy was 87.6%; PET/CT provided sensitivity = 82.1%, specificity = 73.3%, accuracy = 81%, PPV = 95.6%, NPV = 36.7%; ROC analysis (SUVmax cut-off = 2) provided sensitivity = 84%, specificity = 80%. In 61 multiple nodules, the prevalence of malignancy was 52.5%; PET/CT (nodule and patient-based analysis, respectively) provided sensitivity = 68.7% and 88.9%, specificity = 86.2% and 55.6%, accuracy = 77% and 77.8%, PPV = 84.4% and 80%, NPV = 71.8% and 71.5%; ROC analysis (nodule-based, SUVmax cut-off = 1.8) provided sensitivity = 71.9%, specificity = 82.8%. Malignant nodules were prevalent in males, in solitary pattern and in upper lobes, and had significantly greater size and metabolic activity (SUVmax and TLG) than benign ones, with no differences in interval-time between previous cancer diagnosis and nodule detection, patients’ age or other nodules’ features (lung side, central/peripheral). When comparing solitary and multiple patterns, malignant nodules had significantly greater size and metabolic activity than benign ones in both groups.


In oncological patients, 18F-FDG PET/CT provides good diagnostic performance for ruling in the malignancy in pulmonary nodules detected during follow-up, even at small size and especially when solitary. In multiple patterns, PET seems useful in the perspective of a personalized management, for identifying the “reference” nodule deserving histological assessment.


Pulmonary nodule PET/CT 18F-FDG Metabolic characterization Previous cancer history 



We are grateful to Dr. Ola Attieh for collaboration in recruiting patients’ medical and imaging data.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All patients gave a general written informed consent for PET/CT examination and for retrospective evaluation of their data.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silvia Taralli
    • 1
  • Valentina Scolozzi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Massimiliano Foti
    • 2
  • Sara Ricciardi
    • 3
  • Anna Rita Forcione
    • 4
  • Giuseppe Cardillo
    • 4
  • Maria Lucia Calcagni
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Nuclear Medicine UnitFondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCSRomaItalia
  2. 2.Nuclear Medicine InstituteUniversità Cattolica del Sacro CuoreRomaItalia
  3. 3.Unit of Thoracic SurgeryUniversity Hospital of PisaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Unit of Thoracic SurgerySan Camillo Forlanini HospitalRomeItaly

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