PET Scans More Accurate in Detecting Mediastinal Lymph Node Metastasis in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

PET Scans More Accurate in Detecting Mediastinal Lymph Node Metastasis in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

According to a recent article published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, positron emission tomography (PET) scans are much more accurate in determining whether cancer has spread to mediastinal (middle of the chest) lymph nodes than computed tomography (CT) scans in non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of deaths related to cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) refers to the type of cell within the lung from which the cancer originated and accounts for approximately 75%-80% of all lung cancer diagnoses. Treatment options for NSCLC are dictated by the stage, or extent of spread, of cancer in the body. Therefore, the accuracy of procedures such as scans, which provide vital staging information, is imperative to provide optimal treatment. PET and CT scans are two types of scans that are commonly used for detection and/or staging of NSCLC. Researchers are evaluating the effectiveness of these scans, used alone or in combination, for determining cancer spread or a cancer recurrence to certain sites in the body. Furthermore, the most accurate ways in which to stage a patient are under continuous evaluation, as new staging methods such as scans or biologic markers are being uncovered.

A common site for cancer to spread is the mediastinal lymph nodes. Researchers from the Netherlands recently analyzed data involving a meta-analysis of relevant published medical studies including the use of PET or CT scans in determining the presence of cancer spread to mediastinal lymph nodes in patients with NSCLC. Overall, PET scans detected 90% of mediastinal node spread, while CT scans only detected 70% of mediastinal node spread.

The researchers concluded that PET scans appear far more effective in detecting cancer spread to mediastinal lymph nodes than CT scans in NSCLC. Future direct comparative trials are necessary to further confirm these findings; however, patients may wish to speak with their physician about the use of specific types of scans in determining their stage of cancer, or the participation in a clinical trial further evaluating screening methods. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute ( and Personalized clinical trial searches are also performed on behalf of patients at

Reference: Birim Ö, Kappetein A, Stijnen T, Bogers J. Meta-Analysis of Positron Emission Tomographic and Computed Tomographic Imaging in Detecting Mediastinal Lymph Node Metastases in Nonsmall Cell Lung Cancer. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2005; 79:375-382.

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