Purpose: A prospective comparison of three imaging techniques: thoracic CT, positron emission tomography (PET), and endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS) with fine needle aspiration (FNA), each performed under routine conditions, for the detection of metastatic lymph nodes metastases in patients with lung cancer considered for operative resection.
Patients and methods: Following bronchoscopic evaluation, CT, PET, and EUS were performed to evaluate potential mediastinal involvement in 33 consecutive patients with bronchoscopic biopsy/cytology proven (n = 25) or radiologically suspected (n = 8) lung cancer prior to surgery. Surgical histology was used as “gold standard” to confirm the diagnosis of the primary tumor and the mediastinal status in all patients. Histology proved non-small cell lung cancer in 30 patients, neuroendocrine tumor in 1 patient, and benign disease in 2 patients.
Results: The mean age of the study group was 61.5 years (range, 41 to 80 years; 23 male patients). CT, PET, and EUS detected mediastinal lymph nodes (size, 0.4 to 1.6 cm) in 15, 14, and 27 patients (21 of which were suspected to be malignant on EUS), respectively. With respect to the correct prediction of mediastinal lymph node stage, the sensitivities of CT, PET, and EUS were 57%, 73%, and 94%. Specificities were 74%, 83%, and 71%. Accuracies were 67%, 79%, and 82%. Results of PET could be improved when combined with CT (sensitivity, 81%; specificity, 94%; accuracy, 88%). The specificity of EUS (71%) was improved to 100% by FNA cytology (EUS-guided FNA), which gave a tissue diagnosis including tumor type, without complications.
Conclusions: No single imaging method alone was conclusive in evaluating potential mediastinal involvement in apparently operable lung cancer and routine clinical conditions. A tissue diagnosis is extremely helpful. Because FNA can be performed at the same time as EUS, this combination emerged as the most useful technique in the evaluation of even very small mediastinal metastases of lung cancer. CT seems necessary additionally to evaluate the pretracheal region as well as the rest of the thorax, and PET may be valuable to detect distant metastases.