PET Scan for Small Cell Lung Cancer

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 5, 2006


I would like to know the role of PET scan for small cell cancer. I was told by my doctor that small cell cancer not sensitive to FDG avidity. Please advise, thank you.


Peeyush Bhargava, MD, Assistant Professor of nuclear medicine physician at both St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center at the University Hospital of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, responds:

Small cell lung cancer is FDG-avid, meaning that the cancer lesions can be recognized on the whole body PET scan. Studies have shown the role of PET in staging the disease (limited versus extensive) and in assessing response to therapy. Having said this, PET scan is not an approved study for small cell lung cancer patients, meaning it is not approved by Medicare for reimbursement yet. This may be because of the aggressive nature of this type of cancer, the frequent failures despite therapy in patients with limited disease, the lower incidence when compared with non- small cell lung cancer, and the relative lack of clinical studies validating the role of PET. The PET scan should be performed as part of a PET-CT scan combination for improved sensitivity and specificity.


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