Journal of Nuclear Medicine, published on April 10, 2013 as doi:10.2967/jnumed.112.112177
Reporting Guidance for Oncologic 18F-FDG PET/CT Imaging
Ryan D. Niederkohr1, Bennett S. Greenspan2, John O. Prior3, Heiko Schöder4, Marc A. Seltzer5,Katherine A. Zukotynski6,7, and Eric M. Rohren8
1Department of Nuclear Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Santa Clara, California; 2Department of Radiology, MedicalCollege of Georgia/Georgia Regents University, Augusta, Georgia; 3Department of Nuclear Medicine, Lausanne University Hospital,Lausanne, Switzerland; 4Department of Radiology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York; 5Department ofRadiology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire; 6Department of Medical Imaging, University of Toronto,Toronto, Ontario, Canada; 7Department of Radiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; and 8Department ofDiagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas
Learning Objectives: On successful completion of this activity, participants should be able to discuss (1) the elements of a concise and complete oncologic18F-FDG PET/CT report; (2) the importance of obtaining and including in the report a focused history of the patient malignancy and treatments; and (3) theimportance of interpreting both the 18F-FDG PET and the CT findings of PET/CT and of integrating both the metabolic and the anatomic components in thereport.
Financial Disclosure: The authors of this article have indicated no relevant relationships that could be perceived as a real or apparent conflict of interest.
CME Credit: SNMMI is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to sponsor continuing education for physicians. SNMMI designates each JNM continuing education article for a maximum of 2.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits. Physicians should claim only creditcommensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. For CE credit, participants can access this activity through the SNMMI Web site () through May 31, 2016.
addressed the topic of reporting quality in the medical lit-
The written report (or its electronic counterpart) is the primary
erature. Studying the process and quality of reporting not
mode of communication between the physician interpreting an
only is a necessity but also provides a unique opportunity to
imaging study and the referring physician. The content of this
examine and refine the role imaging physicians play in
report not only influences patient management and clinical
outcomes but also serves as legal documentation of servicesprovided and can be used to justify medical necessity, billing
The number of combined PET/CT studies performed
accuracy, and regulatory compliance. Generating a high-quality
annually has markedly increased over the last decade. It is es-
PET/CT report is perhaps more challenging than generating
timated that between 2001 and 2010, the number of active
a report for other imaging studies because of the complexity of
PET/CT systems in the United States increased by approxi-
this hybrid imaging modality. This article discusses the essential
mately 10-fold (from approximately 200 to more than 2,000),
elements of a concise and complete oncologic 18F-FDG PET/
and the number of PET examinations performed in the United
CT report and illustrates these elements through examples
States increased nearly 7-fold (from about 250,000 to more
taken from routine clinical practice.
than 1.7 million) (4). At some institutions, PET/CT is now the
most frequently performed nuclear medicine imaging study,
surpassing myocardial perfusion imaging among others. This
dramatic increase in PET/CT volume highlights the growingclinical acceptance and importance of hybrid anatomic andfunctional imaging.
At present, most PET/CT scans include imaging of the
t most facilities, the written report (or its electronic
neck, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. The interpreting physician
counterpart) is the primary mode of communication be-
must review both the PET and the CT components of the
tween the physician interpreting an imaging study and the
study and must integrate the anatomic and metabolic findings
referring physician. This report often serves as the basis for
into a single unified report. This merging of large diagnostic
medical treatment decisions (1) and is used by third-party
datasets from both the PET and the CT components magnifies
payers to justify medical necessity for the study and validity
the importance of careful and concise reporting.
of reimbursement (2). Several authors have previously
In practice, PET/CT reports vary widely in format, content,
and quality. This variance may, at least in part, stem from thedifferent training backgrounds of the physicians interpreting
Received Jan. 16, 2013; revision accepted Mar. 29, 2013. For correspondence or reprints contact: Ryan Niederkohr, Kaiser Permanente
PET/CT studies today (i.e., primary training in diagnostic
Medical Center, 700 Lawrence Expressway, Department 120, Santa Clara, CA
radiology or nuclear medicine). A recent review of data from
the National Oncologic PET Registry evaluated PET reports
from a broad spectrum of practices throughout the United
COPYRIGHT ª 2013 by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular
States. The authors of this study defined “essential elements”
ONCOLOGIC PET/CT REPORTING GUIDANCE • Niederkohr et al. Copyright 2013 by Society of Nuclear Medicine.
for a PET report and found that essential elements were miss-
ing guidelines for all diagnostic imaging studies (17,18). Other
ing from many PET reports. Of note, certain critical elements
organizations, including the World Health Organization, Na-
(e.g., study indication, treatment history, comparison to prior
tional Center for Health Statistics, American Medical Associ-
imaging studies, and time from radiopharmaceutical injection
ation (for Current Procedural Terminology coding), and
to imaging) were missing from over 40% of reports (5).
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (for clinical
Despite the importance of proper reporting, education on
laboratory improvement amendments), have additional key
reporting technique varies widely among radiology and nuclear
elements related to coding and billing and to justification
medicine training programs (6). Reporting quality can be dif-
of medical necessity (5). Table 1 provides a summary of all ½Table 1
ficult to define and therefore difficult to teach. Nevertheless, it
elements considered essential to 18F-FDG PET/CT reporting.
is clear that certain elements should be included in a PET/CTreport so that clinical, regulatory, and financial requirements
are met. The objectives of this article are to describe the ele-
ments of a concise and complete oncologic 18F-FDG PET/CT
report and to illustrate these elements through examples taken
Results in the literature suggest that the availability of
clinical history increases the accuracy of radiologic imageinterpretation (19–22). When referring a patient for PET/
CT imaging, the referring physician should provide an ap-
propriate indication for the study and clearly state the pri-
The accuracy of image interpretation and the quality of
mary clinical questions to be answered by the scan. Such
the diagnostic report are critical to the continued success of
information helps the interpreting physicians to provide an
PET/CT in the medical community. When referring physi-
accurate, clinically relevant report. When the clinical infor-
cians receive a high-quality, clinically relevant report their
mation provided by the referring physician is inadequate, re-
confidence in (and subsequent use of) this imaging modality
view of the medical record (facilitated by the increasing use
may increase. Unfortunately, the converse is also true: when
of electronic medical record systems) is strongly encouraged.
referring physicians receive reports that are confusing or
Documentation in the report that this clinical information was
contribute little to patient care, the value of PET/CT is di-
reviewed informs the referring physician of the key factors
minished and the test could potentially be considered un-
that were considered by the physician interpreting the imag-
necessary. Therefore, it is imperative that reports be of high
quality, both for optimal patient outcome and for the long-term
The level of detail in the clinical history section of
success and viability of PET/CT as an imaging modality.
the report can vary depending on personal preference, but
In addition, the imaging report should be considered
the following data should be included: the indication for the
a legal document that can be used as the basis for (or
scan, the tumor type and site of disease, a brief statement
defense of) litigation in medical malpractice cases. Issues
regarding previous or ongoing treatment (e.g., chemotherapy
surrounding the diagnosis of cancer (e.g., delay in cancer
or the type and date of previous radiation or surgery), and any
diagnosis; misdiagnosis of extent of cancer spread result-
specific clinical questions raised by the referring clinician.
ing in undertreatment or unnecessary treatment; or false-
Explicit use of terminology that conforms with national or
positive diagnosis of cancer) are among the most common
local regulatory requirements is strongly advised (e.g., Centers
reasons for malpractice litigation in radiology, in addition
for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines in the United
to the appropriate detection of incidental or unexpected
States favor use of terminology such as initial treatment
findings (7–13). Particular attention to these questions is
strategy and subsequent treatment strategy) (23). Additional
needed in oncologic PET/CT imaging, because the scan
pertinent medical or surgical history that may have relevance
covers a large body region. Inaccurate, inadequate, or vague
to PET/CT interpretation should be mentioned (e.g., sarcoido-
reporting increases the imaging physician’s risk of adverse liti-
sis or rheumatoid arthritis). Examples of clinical history state-
gation outcomes whereas accurate, concise, and clear reporting
ments include the following: “58-y-old man with diffuse large
B-cell lymphoma. PET/CT performed for initial staging beforetherapy (development of initial treatment strategy)”; “68-y-old
man with stage III diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, treated with
6 cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy completed July 7, 2012.
The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
PET/CT performed to assess treatment response (development
(SNMMI), American College of Radiology (ACR), and
of subsequent treatment strategy)”; “60-y-old woman with
European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM) (in
stage I colorectal cancer, 1 y after right hemicolectomy in June
addition to national societies of individual countries) have
2011 with no adjuvant chemotherapy, now with rising CEA.
published practice guidelines specific to 18F-FDG PET and
CT of the abdomen and pelvis on May 5, 2012, showed no
PET/CT that list the essential elements that should be in-
evidence of recurrence of metastasis. PET/CT obtained to eval-
cluded in the imaging report of such studies (14–16). In
uate for residual or recurrent malignancy (development of sub-
addition, SNMMI and ACR have also published general report-
THE JOURNAL OF NUCLEAR MEDICINE • Vol. 54 • No. 5 • May 2013
Essential Elements of 18F-FDG PET/CT Reporting
Indication for studyCancer type and site, if applicableBrief review of treatment history, if applicable
Radiopharmaceutical nameRadiopharmaceutical dose/activityRoute of radiopharmaceutical administrationUptake time (i.e., from radiopharmaceutical injection to imaging)Blood glucose levelAncillary medications administered, if applicablePrecise body region scannedCT technique (including whether oral or intravenous contrast was used;
Whether comparison was made with prior PET or PET/CT studies;
Whether correlation was made with prior non-PET imaging studies
(e.g., CT or MR imaging); include dates when available
Location, size/extent, and intensity of sites of abnormal 18F-FDG uptakeAbnormal PET findings correlated with concurrent CT images or correlative
Incidental PET findingsIncidental CT findings
Clear identification of study as normal vs. abnormalInterpretation of findings, rather than just restatement of findingsSuccinct differential diagnosis provided, if applicableRecommendations for follow-up studies, if applicableDocumentation of communication of urgent or emergent findings to
propriate anatomic nomenclature. For example, at some
This section documents how the study was generated so
institutions some patients with cancers of the head and neck
that comparison with subsequent studies can be performed.
are scanned from the skull vertex to the upper pelvis. True
The following information should be included in the technique
whole-body scans (often performed on patients with mela-
section of every report: radiopharmaceutical name, adminis-
noma or myeloma) typically extend from the skull vertex
tered activity, route of administration, and uptake time (i.e.,
time from injection to imaging). Precise radiopharmaceu-
In certain cases, PET/CT protocols may include additional
tical dose (if necessary, corrected for residual activity in the
acquisitions such as delayed imaging. Certain patients may
syringe or intravenous tubing; for example, “9.6 mCi [355
be scanned in specific positions, such as prone positioning, or
MBq]” rather than “approximately 10 mCi [370 MBq]” and
using an immobilization device or face mask for radiation
precise uptake time (e.g., “68 min” rather than “approxi-
treatment planning. These additions to the standard PET/CT
mately 60 min”) should be reported since both parameters
acquisition should be described. If SUVs are reported in the
affect semiquantitative measures (e.g., standardized uptake
findings section of the report, the technique section should
value [SUV]) and may affect comparison with future or prior
specify which SUV parameter (e.g., maximum, peak, nor-
studies. Any ancillary medications administered before the
malized to body weight, lean body mass, or body surface
study should also be listed (e.g., furosemide, 20 mg intrave-
nously, given 30 min after 18F-FDG injection, or lorazepam, 1
Finally, the PET/CT report should clearly describe the CT
mg orally, given 1 h before tracer injection). SNMMI, ACR,
technique. In particular, the report should clearly state whether
and EANM guidelines recommend measuring and reporting
the CT technique was fully optimized (e.g., with full tube
blood glucose levels (in units appropriate for the locale) for
current and intravenous or oral contrast as appropriate) or
patients undergoing 18F-FDG PET or PET/CT (14–16).
whether a low-dose, non–contrast-enhanced technique was
Regardless of whether the PET/CT is coded as a limited
used primarily for anatomic localization and attenuation cor-
or regional study (e.g., “brain only or skull vertex through
rection. If contrast was used, the type and volume of contrast
adrenal glands”), “skull base to mid thigh,” or “true whole-
agent should be stated. The term nondiagnostic CT should be
body study (skull vertex to feet),” the actual axial coverage
avoided since even low-dose, unenhanced CT scans contain
of the scan should be documented in the report using ap-
valuable diagnostic information that should be reported and
ONCOLOGIC PET/CT REPORTING GUIDANCE • Niederkohr et al.
used in the interpretation of the PET portion of the PET/CT
This format generally begins with a description of the
examination. Details regarding adverse reactions to con-
primary PET findings, including positive and negative
trast material (including signs, symptoms, and treatment)
findings that are directly relevant to the clinical question
and any significant deviation from standard protocol
and that describe the primary or dominant sites of disease.
should be included in the report. In some states or coun-
This is followed by a description of PET findings suspected
tries, the inclusion of CT parameters (i.e., kVp and mAs)
to represent disease spread to regional lymph nodes or distant
or patient radiation exposure estimate from the CT com-
sites. Next, incidental PET findings are described (i.e., 18F-
ponent of the examination (e.g., CT dose index in mGy or
FDG–avid lesions suspected to represent a benign or malig-
dose–length product in mGyÁcm) may be required by law.
nant process unrelated to the primary cancer being studied,
Maximal SUV (based on actual body weight) is reported.
such as incidental pituitary adenoma, Warthin tumor, sus-
An example technique section is as follows:
pected colon polyp, or diffuse thyroidal 18F-FDG uptake sug-gestive of thyroiditis). This is followed by a description of
Radiopharmaceutical: 18F FDG, 373 MBq (10.1 mCi)
incidental CT findings (e.g., enlarged but non–18F-FDG-avid
lymph nodes; lung abnormalities such as emphysema, pneu-
Blood glucose at time of 18F-FDG injection: 95 mg/dL
mothorax, and nonavid lung nodules; vascular abnormalities
such as aortic dilation or aneurysm; adrenal nodules; renalmasses or stones; and gallstones). Small pulmonary nodules
Time from 18F-FDG injection to scan: 65 min
without visible 18F-FDG uptake should also be mentioned, as
PET/CT images were acquired from the skull base through
they may require follow-up. Mentioning prominent physio-
the upper thighs; CT images were acquired at a 5-mm slice
logic activity that is still within the range of normal variants
thickness using a low tube current technique and without
(e.g., gastrointestinal tract labeling or brown fat uptake)
the use of oral or intravenous contrast agent
Anatomic Site. Findings are organized by anatomic region
(e.g., head and neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis, musculo-
skeletal), with both PET and CT findings described within
The interpreting physician should compare the current
each anatomic subsection. Some physicians adopt a “struc-
imaging study with prior studies whenever possible. Results
tured” format within each section whereby individual organs
in the literature have shown that comparison with prior
or organ systems are routinely listed, followed by a statement
imaging improves diagnostic accuracy (19,20). Even when
describing the presence or absence of pathology.
the final diagnosis is uncertain, documentation of stability
Hybrid. Some physicians report PET/CT findings using
versus change over time can be helpful to the referring
a combination of the order of importance and anatomic site
physician. Comparison should be made with prior PET/
styles. The report is organized by anatomic region (e.g., head
CT studies, but current findings should also be correlated
and neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis, musculoskeletal), with
with findings of other recent imaging studies such as CT,
findings in each section organized by order of importance. Such
MR imaging, or other nuclear medicine studies (e.g., bone
reports have a predictable overall structure and are presented
scanning or radioiodine scanning) when applicable. The
in a clear fashion with compartmentalized information. This
dates of any other imaging studies used for comparison or
format may be preferred by some referring physicians because
correlation should be listed. If no previous imaging studies
it more closely matches reports associated with anatomic
are available, this should be stated.
imaging modalities such as CT and MR imaging.
General Guidance of Reporting of Findings. In any
It is important to have a consistent organizational
organizational scheme the location, extent, and intensity of
scheme when reporting imaging findings. There are 3
abnormal radiotracer activity should be reported using standard
principal styles of reporting: “order of importance,” “anatomic
anatomic descriptors. The use of a standardized radiology
lexicon (e.g., RadLex in North American English) is encour-
Order of Importance. Findings are described in the order
aged (24). Areas of abnormal radiotracer activity should be
of relevance to the clinical care of the patient. In its simplest
correlated anatomically with the concurrent CT scan or other
form, such a report may follow the TNM staging classifica-
tion for the type of tumor being evaluated. In other cases, it
It is appropriate to provide size measurements for nodules
may begin with the largest or most clinically significant site
and masses, either as a single transaxial diameter or in 2 or 3
of disease, followed by additional findings of less immediate
orthogonal directions. If a single linear measurement is
importance. Once the most important PET findings (along
reported there should be a descriptor indicating whether it
with corresponding anatomic descriptors from the CT portion
represents the short or long axis. When PET/CT is used as
of the study) have been reported, there should be a description
a follow-up study to anatomic imaging (e.g., CT alone), effort
of significant CT findings that are not 18F-FDG–avid, fol-
should be made to compare anatomic information (i.e.,
lowed by incidental findings (on PET or CT) that are unlikely
increasing, stable, or decreasing lesion size) in addition to
reporting the metabolic findings on PET.
THE JOURNAL OF NUCLEAR MEDICINE • Vol. 54 • No. 5 • May 2013
The intensity of 18F-FDG uptake within a lesion may be
more than 50% of cases, though this study was limited by
reported using either qualitative (e.g., mild, moderate, or in-
several factors including retrospective design (29). Additional
tense) terminology or using semiquantitative measures such
imaging studies may be needed to clarify areas of diagnostic
as the SUV. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.
uncertainty on the PET/CT, especially when this is critical for
Use of SUV may be preferable in many situations, as it is
patient management. However, such recommendations for ad-
more amenable to interstudy comparison and has prognostic
ditional imaging should be issued sparingly because indiscrim-
value in some cancers. However, there are different ways
inate additional imaging may lead to unnecessary health care
of calculating and reporting SUV that should be standardized
costs, patient anxiety or inconvenience, and potential compli-
(e.g., mean vs. maximum SUV; SUV normalized to true body
cations as the result of these additional tests (29,30). It may
weight vs. lean body weight), and interpreting physicians
also put referring physicians in a position where they feel
need to be aware of limitations in SUV measurements and
medicolegally obligated to order the recommended tests, and
potential sources for error that may adversely affect SUV
the recommended tests could also potentially be construed as
accuracy and reproducibility (25–27). Use of qualitative ter-
inappropriate self-referral as has been reported by some
minology may avoid these potential pitfalls of SUV, but such
authors (30,31). The recommendation for additional imaging
terminology may be interpreted variably from reader to
should be tailored to institutional preferences and may depend
reader and the absence of a quantitative parameter may
on the level of imaging expertise among both imaging physi-
make interstudy comparison difficult or impossible.
cians and referring physicians (28).
Regardless of the aforementioned approaches, we rec-
The language used in the impression should be as clear
ommend that abnormal 18F-FDG uptake be compared with
and unambiguous as possible. For instance, terms such as
uptake in a normal reference region. For example, abnormal
absent, excludes, and definite are clear and can be expected
18F-FDG uptake in a lesion can be characterized by com-
to be interpreted similarly by referring physicians and im-
paring it with uptake in normal liver, with “mild” meaning
aging physicians. Diagnostic uncertainty can be expressed
less intense than normal liver uptake, “moderate” meaning
using terms such as probably benign or probably malignant;
similar in intensity to normal liver uptake, and “intense”
however, such terms may have different probabilistic mean-
meaning substantially higher than normal liver uptake. Le-
ings to different people, which may lead to misunderstanding
sion SUV can also be compared with SUV within a refer-
among physicians and patients (32). Therefor, if these terms
ence region of interest in the liver or mediastinal blood-pool
are used, their meaning should be explained to referring
physicians. The term equivocal or indeterminate should bereserved for scenarios in which a likelihood of malignancy
The impression is probably the most important section of
There is an increasing emphasis on the standardization of
an imaging report. Many referring physicians begin their
reporting with respect to assessment of treatment response.
reading of the report with the impression, and they read the
Current best practices in reporting emphasize consistency
findings section only as time allows. It is essential that all
in communication so that clinical decisions can be made
important information is presented in the impression in a
on the basis of imaging results. In clinical reports, the
clear and succinct way. The impression section should be
language of response assessment (e.g., complete response,
a brief and concise interpretation of findings, not simply
partial response, stable disease, or progressive disease) is
a restatement of findings. Lengthy discussion should be
derived from the World Health Organization criteria and
RECIST criteria, which were developed for trial-based imag-
The impression should allow the reader to clearly identify
ing using anatomic imaging modalities (33,34). To capture
whether the PET/CT findings are normal or abnormal, and
the full breadth of information in a PET/CT scan, future
it should answer the specific clinical questions raised by the
iterations of response assessment criteria will need to incor-
referring physician. The impression should provide a clear
porate parameters in addition to size, including intensity of
diagnosis or a brief list of differential diagnoses with level of
uptake and possibly volumetric metabolic data. Several pro-
likelihood. For follow-up scans after therapy, both the meta-
posals for characterizing metabolic response have been put
bolic response and anatomic response may be reported in the
forward, including the Cheson and Deauville/London criteria
impression, particularly if these responses are discordant.
(specific to lymphoma) and PERCIST (35–39,40,41).
Some imaging physicians recommend additional imaging
Although the proposed criteria for metabolic response
studies, tissue sampling, or follow-up for specific findings in
have many potential advantages, there are several issues
the impression section. A 2009 study found that the frequency
that currently limit widespread use of these metrics in clinical
of recommendations for additional imaging in radiology
reports. First, many of these metrics have not been rigorously
reports has nearly doubled since 1995 (28), and a 2013 study
validated in clinical outcome studies. Second, some of these
found that recommendations for additional imaging were
metrics are disease-specific (e.g., Deauville/London and Che-
found in 29.6% of oncologic PET/CT reports (29). The latter
son criteria for lymphoma), precluding application to other
study reported no adverse impact on patient management or
tumor types. Third, criteria that classify metabolic response
outcome by not issuing or following these recommendations in
based on percent changes in SUV or other metrics are
ONCOLOGIC PET/CT REPORTING GUIDANCE • Niederkohr et al.
applicable only if baseline and follow-up studies are performed
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tion protocol and means of image analysis need to be
standardized and consistent. Finally, these schemes are con-
stantly evolving and the optimal criteria may change over time.
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Revised 2010. Accessed March 29, 2013.
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THE JOURNAL OF NUCLEAR MEDICINE • Vol. 54 • No. 5 • May 2013
Effect of joint injections in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis:evaluation by 3D-gait analysisE Brostro¨m, S Hagelberg and Y Haglund-A Department of Woman and Child Health, Karolinska Institute, Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden ˚ kerlind Y. Effect of joint injections in children with juvenileidiopathic arthritis: evaluation by 3D-gait analysis. Acta Pædiatr
Anti-diabetic assessment of Solutions #396 to #401 Testing Institution Diabetes Discovery Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Tygerberg, 7505, South Africa. 22 December 2008 Testing Institution Diabetes Discovery Platform, South African Medical Research Council, Tygerberg, 7505, South Africa. OBJECTIVE To investigate the in vitro glucose uptake