Purpose: Carcinoma of unknown primary is one of the ten most frequent cancers worldwide. Its median survival time is less than 10 months. Detecting primary tumour locations and/or occult metastatic lesions may inform definitive treatment and improve patients’ prognosis. We aimed to determine: (1) the sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of F-18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography; (2) its detection rate of primary tumour locations and occult metastases and (3) factors associated with improved survival times.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed all cases in the West of Scotland for the period 1 December 2007 to 31 May 2011 that met all our selection criteria: (1) diagnosis of carcinoma of unknown primary; (2) a thorough but negative ‘work-up’ and (3) F-18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography report. Statistical methods included frequencies, Kaplan-Meier graphs and log-rank tests to compare survival times.
Results: F-18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography detected primary tumour sites in 19/51 (37.3%) and occult metastases in 28/51 (54.9%) of eligible patients. Its sensitivity, specificity and accuracy were 79.2%, 70.4% and 74.5%, respectively; 20/51 (39.2%) patients died during the study period with a median survival of 8.4 months (range 21.4, SD +/- 6.2). The number of metastatic locations was strongly associated with survival (p = 0.002), but detection of a primary tumour site (p = 0.174) or histopathology (p = 0.301) was not.
Conclusion: F-18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography detected occult metastatic sites in the majority and a primary cancer location in a substantial minority of patients. Our results were comparable with international literature and may indicate that F-18-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography have an early role to improve the accuracy of cancer staging and to optimise carcinoma of unknown primary management.