Contextualizing the use of oncologic imaging within treatment phases: imaging trends and modality preferences, 2000–2014

T.P. Copeland, J.M. Creasman, D.J. Seidenwurm, B.L. Franc



In the present study, we retrospectively evaluated the use of tomographic imaging in adult cancer patients to clarify how recent growth plateaus in the use of tomographic imaging in the United States might have affected oncologic imaging during the same period.


At a U.S. academic cancer centre, 12,059 patients with dates of death from January 2000 through December 2014 were identified. Imaging was restricted to brain and body computed tomography (ct), brain and body magnetic resonance (mr), and body positron-emission tomography (pet) with and without superimposed ct. Trends during the staging (1 year after diagnosis), monitoring (18–6 months before death), and end-of-life (final 6 months before death) phases were analyzed.


Comparing the 2005–2009 with the 2010–2014 period, mean intensity of pet imaging increased 21% during staging (p = 0.0000) and 27% during end of life (p = 0.0019). In the monitoring phase, mean intensity for ct brain, ct body, and mr body imaging decreased by 26% (p = 0.0133), 11% (p = 0.0118), and 26% (p = 0.0008), respectively. Aggregate mean intensity of imaging increased in the 13%–27% range every 3 months from 18 months before death to death, reaching 1.43 images in the final 3 months of life. Patients diagnosed in the final 18 months of life had an average of 1 additional image during both the 3 months after diagnosis (p = 0.0000) and the final 3 months before death (p = 0.0000).


Imaging increased as temporal proximity to death decreased, and patients diagnosed near death received more staging imaging, suggesting that imaging guidelines should consider imaging intensity within the context of treatment phase. Despite the development, by multiple organizations, of appropriateness criteria to reduce imaging utilization, aggregate per-patient imaging showed insignificant changes. Simultaneous fluctuations in the intensity of imaging by modality suggest recent changes in the modalities preferred by providers.


Radiology; tomographic imaging; oncologic imaging; imaging trends; staging; end of life; evidence based practice; imaging guidelines

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)