18F-Fluorocholine Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography Is a Highly Sensitive but Poorly Specific Tool for Identifying Malignancy in Thyroid Nodules with Indeterminate Cytology: The Chocolate Study

Published Online:23 Dec 2020




Background: Refining the risk of malignancy in patients presenting with thyroid nodules with indeterminate cytology (IC) is a critical challenge. We investigated the performances of 18F-fluorocholine (FCH) positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) to predict malignancy.

Methods: Between May 2016 and March 2019, 107 patients presenting with a thyroid nodule ≥15 mm with IC and eligible for surgery were included in this prospective study. Head-and-neck PET/CT acquisitions were performed 20 and 60 minutes after injection of 1.5 MBq/kg of FCH. PET/CT acquisition was scored positive when maximal standardized uptake value in the IC nodule was higher than in the thyroid background. Pathology was the gold standard for diagnosis.

Results: At pathology, 19 (18%) nodules were malignant, 87 were benign, and one was a noninvasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features (NIFTP). Sensitivity, specificity, accuracy, positive-predictive value (PPV), and negative-predictive value (NPV) of FCH PET/CT in detecting cancer or NIFTP were 90%, 50%, 55%, 29%, and 96% at 20 minutes and 85%, 49%, 67%, 28%, and 94% at 60 minutes, respectively. Higher specificity (58% vs. 33%, p = 0.01) was observed in nononcocytic (n = 72) than in oncocytic IC nodules (n = 35). The pre-PET/CT probability of cancer or NIFTP in Bethesda III–IV nodules was 11% and the post-PET/CT probability was 19% in PET-positives and 0% in PET-negatives. In retrospective analysis, 42% of surgeries would have been unnecessary after PET/CT and 81% before (p < 0.001), resulting in a hypothetical 48% reduction (95% confidence interval [32–64]).

Conclusions: FCH PET/CT offers high NPV to reliably exclude cancer in PET-negative IC nodules, but suffers from low PPV, particularly in those with oncocytic cytology. ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02784223.