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The Value of FDG Positron Emission Tomography/Computerised Tomography (PET/CT) in Pre-Operative Staging of Colorectal Cancer: A Systematic Review and Economic Evaluation

Health Technology Assessment, No. 15.35

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Author Information
Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .



In the UK, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common malignancy (behind lung and breast cancer) with 37,514 cases registered in 2006: around two-thirds (23,384) in the colon and one-third (14,130) in the rectum. Treatment of cancers of the colon can vary considerably, but surgical resection is the mainstay of treatment for curative intent. Following surgical resection, there is a comprehensive assessment of the tumour, it's invasion characteristics and spread (tumour staging). A number of imaging modalities are used in the pre-operative staging of CRCs including; computerised tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound imaging and positron emission tomography (PET). This report examines the role of CT in combination with PET scanning (PET/CT ‘hybrid’ scan). The research objectives are: to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy and therapeutic impact of fluorine-18-deoxyglucose (FDG) PET/CT for the pre-operative staging of primary, recurrent and metastatic cancer using systematic review methods; undertake probabilistic decision-analytic modelling (using Monte Carlo simulation); and conduct a value of information analysis to help inform whether or not there is potential worth in undertaking further research.

Data sources:

For each aspect of the research – the systematic review, the handsearch study and the economic evaluation – a database was assembled from a comprehensive search for published and unpublished studies, which included database searches, reference lists search and contact with experts. In the systematic review prospective and retrospective patient series (diagnostic cohort) and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were eligible for inclusion. Both consecutive series and series that are not explicitly reported as consecutive were included.

Review methods:

Two reviewers extracted all data and applied the criteria independently and resolved disagreements by discussion. Data to populate 2 × 2 contingency tables consisting of the number of true positives, true negatives, false positives and false negatives using the studies' own definitions were extracted, as were data relating to changes in management. Fourteen items from the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies checklist were used to assess the methodological quality of the included studies. Patient-level data were used to calculate sensitivity and specificity with confidence intervals (CIs). Data were plotted graphically in forest plots. For the economic evaluation, economic models were designed for each of the disease states: primary, recurrent and metastatic. These were developed and populated based on a variety of information sources (in particular from published data sources) and literature, and in consultation with clinical experts.


The review found 30 studies that met the eligibility criteria. Only two small studies evaluated the use of FDG PET/CT in primary CRC, and there is insufficient evidence to support its routine use at this time. The use of FDG PET/CT for the detection of recurrent disease identified data from five retrospective studies from which a pooled sensitivity of 91% (95% CI 0.87% to 0.95%) and specificity of 91% (95% CI 0.85% to 0.95%) were observed. Pooled accuracy data from patients undergoing staging for suspected metastatic disease showed FDG PET/CT to have a pooled sensitivity of 91% (95% CI 87% to 94%) and a specificity of 76% (95% CI 58% to 88%), but the poor quality of the studies means the validity of the data may be compromised by several biases. The separate handsearch study did not yield any additional unique studies relevant to FDG PET/CT. Models for recurrent disease demonstrated an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of £21,409 per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) for rectal cancer, £6189 per QALY for colon cancer and £21,434 per QALY for metastatic disease. The value of handsearching to identify studies of less clearly defined or reported diagnostic tests is still to be investigated.


The systematic review found insufficient evidence to support the routine use of FDG PET/CT in primary CRC and only a small amount of evidence supporting its use in the pre-operative staging of recurrent and metastatic CRC, and, although FDG PET/CT was shown to change patient management, the data are divergent and the quality of research is generally poor. The handsearch to identify studies of less clearly defined or reported diagnostic tests did not find additional studies. The primary limitations in the economic evaluations were due to uncertainty and lack of available evidence from the systematic reviews for key parameters in each of the five models. In order to address this, a conservative approach was adopted in choosing DTA estimates for the model parameters. Probabilistic analyses were undertaken for each of the models, incorporating wide levels of uncertainty particularly for the DTA estimates. None of the economic models reported cost-savings, but the approach adopted was conservative in order to determine more reliable results given the lack of current information. The economic evaluations conclude that FDG PET/CT as an add-on imaging device is cost-effective in the pre-operative staging of recurrent colon, recurrent rectal and metastatic disease but not in primary colon or rectal cancers. There would be value in undertaking an RCT with a concurrent economic evaluation to evaluate the therapeutic impact and cost-effectiveness of FDG PET/CT compared with conventional imaging (without PET) for the pre-operative staging of recurrent and metastatic CRC.


The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.


Suggested citation:

Brush J, Boyd K, Chappell F, Crawford F, Dozier M, Fenwick E, et al. The value of FDG positron emission tomography/computerised tomography (PET/CT) in pre-operative staging of colorectal cancer: a systematic review and economic evaluation. Health Technol Assess 2011;15(35).

Declared competing interests of authors: none

The research reported in this issue of the journal was commissioned by the HTA programme as project number 08/65/02. The contractual start date was in April 2009. The draft report began editorial review in April 2010 and was accepted for publication in November 2010. As the funder, by devising a commissioning brief, the HTA programme specified the research question and study design. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HTA editors and publisher have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors' report and would like to thank the referees for their constructive comments on the draft document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the HTA programme or the Department of Health.

© 2011, Crown Copyright.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK99944


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