SPECT — Proving Its Value

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon


  Gordon DePuey, MD, division of nuclear medicine, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital

Considered to be a critical diagnostic tool in imaging patients with suspected or confirmed coronary artery disease (CAD), single photo emission computed tomography (SPECT) is holding its own against emerging cardiovascular imaging modalities such as cardiac CT and MRI and offers considerable advantages that cannot be ignored.

Nuclear medicine utilization (excluding PET procedures) continues to be dominated by cardiovascular applications, which have grown to 60 percent of procedures in 2006 from 54 percent in 2002, according to Lorna Young, senior director, market research, IMV Medical Information Division. IMV estimates that 60 percent of 15.2 million patient visits in the United States in 2006 were for cardiovascular studies, such as cardiac perfusion, echocardiography and SPECT.

SPECT is a critical test for the assessment of patients with suspected CAD and one of the most commonly ordered tests for patients presenting with suspected coronary artery stenosis, confirms U. Joseph Schoepf, MD, associate professor of radiology and cardiology, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston.

SPECT has increasingly come under fire from proponents of cardiac MRI and CT, but Schoepf believes the attacks are not entirely justified. “[SPECT] is fairly entrenched in the diagnostic workup of patients with CAD—people commonly refer to that test whenever managing patients with the disease,” he says. “We also know that one of the most valuable pieces of information derived from SPECT is patient prognosis, which is extremely important in patient management. If a patient presents with no signs of myocardial ischemia on SPECT, we have incremental prognostic value regarding the incidence of cardiovascular events—value that even exceeds that of an invasive catheter angiogram.”

Gordon DePuey, MD, division of nuclear medicine, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, New York, N.Y., is another believer in SPECT’s negative prognostic value.

“From virtually every study published on nuclear imaging, we know that the more extensive, the more severe the perfusion abnormality, the higher likelihood of morbidity and mortality, so we can rely very well on the prognostic ability of SPECT and its ability to risk stratify patients,” he says. “Our sensitivity in detecting coronary disease is not all that great—perhaps about 90 percent—meaning we miss about 10 percent. As it turns out, though, in patients where we miss disease and the scan is negative, the prognosis and risk of patients is still very, very low.”

DePuey says that despite the other modalities like stress echocardiography and CT coronary angiography that are suitable for cardiac imaging, SPECT continues to prove its value as an important tool in diagnosing CAD. “SPECT is really giving us hemodynamic-significant information necessary for effective patient management,” he says.

“Myocardial perfusion SPECT imaging has considerable advantages over stress echo,” says DePuey. He says that there are advantages to stress echo including the ability to look not only at stress-induced left ventricular dysfunction associated with coronary disease, but also other abnormalities like valvular disease. While echo has great advantages in young patients and young women who we do not want to expose to radiation unnecessarily, where SPECT’s great advantage is that, compared to exercise echo, it is “probably more accurate,” he says. “[SPECT’s] accuracy is similar to dobutamine echo, which can be technically inadequate due to hyper-expansion of the lungs, except SPECT has better inter-observer agreement and better precision,” says DePuey.

Schoepf adds that the role of SPECT as the “premier modality” to assess myocardial perfusion will remain untouched by the introduction of CT coronary angiography (CTCA). The two cannot really be pitted against each other, he says.

“[SPECT and CTCA] evaluate two very different aspects of coronary artery disease,” says Schoepf. “CTCA is specifically an anatomical and morphological test with the goal of detecting coronary arteries with stenosis. Myocardial perfusion imaging with SPECT is a completely different animal—its emphasis is on function. It has very little morphological information to it. One test looks at coronary artery obstruction or stensosis and the other looks at hemodynamic significance—both form a cornerstone method of imaging patients with suspected or confirmed CAD,” he