ADC of Diffusion-weighted MRI and SUVmax of 18F-FDG-PET/CT: Correlation with Prognostic Factors and Distant Metastasis in Breast Cancer
Kevser Esmeray ÇIFCI1,Mehmet Ali NAZLI2,Melis BAYKARA ULUSAN3,Esra ARSLAN4
1Department of Radiology, Kocaeli Darıca Farabi Training and Research Hospital, Kocaeli-Türkiye
2Department of Radiology, Başakşehir Çam and Sakura City Hospital, İstanbul-Türkiye
3Department of Radiology, University of Health Sciences, İstanbul Training and Research Hospital, İstanbul-Türkiye
4Department of Nuclear Medicine, University of Health Sciences, İstanbul Training and Research Hospital, İstanbul-Türkiye
DOI : 10.5505/tjo.2023.3473


We aimed to evaluate the relationship between apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC), maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax), and prognostic factors in breast cancer (BC) and to investigate the contribution of these parameters in determining the distant metastases at the time of diagnosis in BC.

The study included 209 patients with invasive BC at the time of initial diagnosis. Patients underwent whole-body 18F-fluorodeoxyglocose positron emission tomography/computed tomography and breast magnetic resonance imaging including diffusion weighted imaging. Histologic grade (HG), histological type, human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER-2), Ki-67, estrogen receptor (ER), and progesterone receptor (PR) markers of the breast tumor were evaluated in pathological samples. Tumor-node-metastasis (TNM) staging was performed based on clinical, pathological, and imaging findings.

HER-2 positivity and PR positivity demonstrated a strong correlation with distant metastasis (p=0.00040 ve 0.00045). ER positivity was positively correlated with SUVmax (p=0.0001) and SUVmax/ADCmean (p=0.006). PR was positively correlated with ADCmean (0.028). SUVmax was correlated with the tumor size (p=0.008), TNM stage (p=0.022 and r=0.159), and HG (p<0.0001 and r=0.347).

Both SUVmax and ADCmean are helpful parameters in determining prognosis in BC. HER-2 and PR positivity, and tumor size can be used as revealing and useful parameters in determining distant metastases.


Detection of the presence and spread of distant metastases in breast cancer (BC) is the most important prognostic factor for making a treatment plan. Although distant metastases are detected at the time of diagnosis in 5% of the patients diagnosed with BC, distant metastases occurring in years are the most frequently seen causes of mortality in BC patients. [1,2] Patients with poor prognostic factors without detectable metastatic lesions are supported by adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiation because of the high risk of metastasis. New prognostic markers are needed to identify this patient group who will benefit from adjuvant therapies.[3,4]

18F-FDG positron emission tomography/computed tomography (18F-FDG-PET/CT) and diffusion-weighted image (DWI) are imaging methods that give indirect information of the biological properties of cancer. Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax) values measured from breast mass have the potential to be used as prognostic biomarkers.[5-13]

DWI is an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique based on thermal energy-dependent random movements (Brownian motion) of water molecules in biological tissues, and its quantitative parameter is ADC. In high cellular malignant tissue, low ADC values are expected due to restricted fluid diffusion in the relatively decreased extracellular space and an increase in the nucleus/cytoplasm ratio.[11,12]

18F-FDG-PET/CT is a widely used diagnostic method in the diagnosis, systemic staging, detecting recurrence and evaluation of response to treatment, as well as distinguishing malignant from benign lesions, which enables image acquisition by using high glucose metabolism in cancer cells and therefore increased FDG uptake.[4-7] FDG uptake is quantified as the SUV max, and this numerical value is generally associated with the biological aggressiveness of the tumor. Although PET/CT has a high sensitivity ranged from 81 to 99 % in tumors above 2 cm in initial staging, studies have shown that diagnostic accuracy is quite limited in small tumors (<1 cm) which results in a false negative PET/CT.[7,14,15]

Many biological factors, including molecular subtypes, histologic grade (HG), estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), and Ki-67 and also age and axillary lymph node (LN) involvement, have been used to determine the prognosis.[16]

Studies are showing that ADC[11,12,16] and SUVmax [7-9] or both of these values[5,13,14] obtained from the primary tumor in BC have a significant relationship with pathological prognostic factors. In our study, we investigate the relationship between SUVmax, ADC values and prognostic factors and also the contribution of these parameters of the primary tumor to the prediction of distant metastasis in BC patients.


Patient Selection
The institutional review board of Istanbul Training and Research Hospital approved this retrospective study (May 08, 2020-2279); the need for informed consent was waived. Between January 2016 and December 2017, 608 patients with invasive BC at the time of initial diagnosis who had verified by core needle or excisional biopsy were included. Within 3-30 days after the biopsy, 231 of these patients, underwent either wholebody 18F-FDG-PET/CT and breast dynamic contrastenhanced (DCE-MRI) including DWI for initial local and systemic staging. In excluded 23 patients, the interval was longer than 30 days between PET-CT and DCE-MRI. Two patients were excluded due to motion artifacts in MRI. Finally, 209 (207 females and 2 males) BC patients remained. 126 of these patients diagnosed distant metastasis on PET-CT.

All the patients were imaged using an FDG-PET/CT scanner with 16-multi-detector CT (mCT 20 ultra HD LSO PET/CT, (Siemens molecular imaging, Hoffmann Estates, Illinois, USA).

Patients were fasted for at least 6 h before the PETCT procedure and all the patients" blood glucose levels measured below 150 mg/dL. All patients were administered intravenously with 18F-FDG radiopharmaceutical, calculated from 0.15 mCi/kg based on their body weight. Following the injection, the patients were rested in the half-lying position for 50-60 min in a silent room. At the end of the rest period, combined image acquisition began unenhanced CT scan (3.5 mm slice thickness, 120 kV tube and up to 80 mA s) and subsequent 3D mode PET scan (5-7 bed positions, 3 min per bed position) between vertex and upper femur at the supine position.

1.5-Tesla Breast MRI
The MRI were acquired in the prone position, using a 1.5-Tesla scanner (Signa HDi; GE Healthcare, Milwaukee, WI) with a dedicated bilateral breast phased-array coil. Before the examination, a catheter was placed through the antecubital vein to the patients. Standard protocol with contrast and DWI sequence was used in all examinations.

MR imaging protocol included axial, coronal, and sagittal turbo spin-echo T2 weighted (3D) sequence with 2 mm slice thickness and 1 mm slice spacing, axial fat-suppressed T2 sequence with slice thickness 2 mm and slice thickness 3 mm (fat suppression technique was the short-tau inversion recovery), axial DWI sequence with single-shot EPI; b value = 0 and 800 s/mm2 with 3 mm slice thickness and slice spacing; after pre-contrast T1-weighted axial 3D dynamic gradient echo fat suppressed images, a bolus of 0.1 mmol/L per kilogram of body weight contrast agent gadoterate meglumine and 20 mL saline injection was administered with an automated contrast injector. In the post-contrast phase, six phased axial T1-weighted 3D dynamic gradient-echo fat-suppressed consecutive serial images were obtained with a maximum of 60-second intervals. Post-processing, maximum-intensity projection, subtraction, and ADC maps were obtained. All lesions were seen and evaluated at MRI.

Imaging Analysis
All 18F-FDG-PET/CT images were analyzed by two nuclear medicine physicians with 5 and 10 years of experience in PET/CT. The readers were blinded to the histopathologic diagnosis and had any knowledge of other quantitative imaging data. The volume of interest (VOI) was determined as the area where FDG uptake was most intense on the relevant primary breast tumor, and FDG uptake was semiquantitatively analyzed in this area. SUVmax was considered the voxel with the highest SUV in the VOI examined and was used to measure and record uptake.

Two radiology physicians with 5 and 12 years of experience in breast MRI evaluated ADC maps retrospectively. The readers had no knowledge of histopathologic diagnosis and quantitative imaging data. On the ADC map, multiple uniform circular 20 mm2 region of interests placed within the primary breast tumor. ADC measurements were made only from a solid portion of the tumor and dynamic contrast-enhanced images were used as a reference to avoid measuring from cystic, hemorrhagic, or necrotic areas. The average of the ADC values was calculated and noted as ADCmean.

Figures 1 and 2 show the symbolic images of the ADC and the SUVmax measurement.

Fig. 1. 47 years old woman with Luminal B type invasive mucinous breast cancer, histologic grade 3, Immunohistochemical staining revealed ER+, PR+, HER-2 -, and Ki-67 %65, stage 4 with bone metastases. On 18F-FDG-PET/CT images, a primary tumor (SUVmax:11.9) of approximately 5 cm in diameter is observed in the upper outer quadrant of the left breast (first row). Multiple metastatic lymph nodes (SUVmax:11.6) are seen on axillary sections (second row). There is an osteolytic metastatic lesion (SUVmax:12.3) in the L3 vertebral body (third row).
ER: Estrogen receptor; PR: Progesterone receptor; HER-2: Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2; 18F-FDG-PET/CT: 18F-FDG positron emission tomography/computed tomography; SUV: Standardized uptake value.

Fig. 2. Same patient. (a) Post-contrast T1 weighted axial image shows high intensity left upper outer quadrant lesion. (b) Post-contrast subtraction image. (c) Axial diffusion-weighted image with b value of 800 shows restricted diffusion in a 5 cm mass. (d) ADC map shows restricted diffusion (ADCmean: 830×10-6 mm2/s).
ADC: Apparent diffusion coefficient.

Histological Evaluation
In all patients, first the histological grade (HG) and type of the tumor were determined in the pathology specimens obtained by core needle biopsy or surgery. Subtyping was made according to the markers ER, PR, HER-2, and Ki-67 with immunohistochemical tests. The ER and PR results were determined to be positive according to the proportion of positively stained cell nuclei was higher than 10% and negative when less than 10%. HER-2 expression was determined with fluorescence in situ hybridization. Score +2 and +3 are defined as positive. If the Ki-67 proliferation index was over 15%, it was considered positive and below 15% was considered negative. LN status was evaluated mainly with the imaging techniques and also fine-needle aspiration and sentinel LN biopsy. TNM staging of all the patients was evaluated with initial imaging, biopsy, and pre-treatment clinical staging.

Statistical Analysis
Statistical analyzes were performed using IBM SPSS Statistics 25.0 (Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.) package program. Normality assumption of quantitative data was checked by Shapiro-Wilk test. Since the normality assumption was not provided, the Mann-Whitney U test and the Kruskal-Wallis test were used for assessing the relationship between SUVmax, ADCmean, SUVmax/ADC values, and the clinicopathological parameters. Dunn test for pairwise comparison and Bonferroni correction was applied to the results. Correlation of quantitative data with each other (SUVmax, ADC, SUVmax/ ADC) or with HG and clinical stage was evaluated with Spearman"s Rho correlation coefficient. Logistic regression analysis was used to develop a model that can predict the presence of distant metastasis in the patient with prognostic factors and imaging data, variables with p<0.10 in univariate logistic regression analysis and variables considered to be clinically significant were evaluated by multiple logistic regression analysis.


The detailed characteristics of the patients included in the study are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Patient characteristics

Comparison of Groups According to the Presence of Distant Metastasis
In the comparison of metastatic and non-metastatic groups, clinicopathologic factors and quantitative imaging data were compared in univariate analysis, and those with p<0.1 were evaluated by logistic regression tests in multivariate analysis. Tumor size, HER-2 overexpression, and PR positivity were determined as independent variables affecting the presence of metastasis in multivariate analysis (Table 2).

Table 2 Multiple logistic regression analysis for distant metastasis

Distant metastasis was present in 83 (39.7%) of the patients. There was no significant difference in mean age, histopathological diagnosis, HG, ADCmean, SUVmax, SUVmax/ADCmean, and molecular subtypes between metastatic and non-metastatic groups (p>0.05). The distribution of ADCmean, SUVmax ve SUVmax/ADCmean values of the metastatic and non-metastatic groups did not differ significantly (p>0.05) (Table 3).

Table 3 Comparison of the ADCmean, SUVmax and SUVmax/ADCmean depending on distant metastasis

Univariate analysis showed that a large tumor size (>2 cm) was significantly correlated with the presence of distant metastasis (p<0.005). Immunohistochemistry receptor positivity was present for HER-2, ER, and PR and p values between metastatic and nonmetastatic groups were p=0.0004, 0.803, and 0.00045, respectively. HER-2 positivity and PR positivity demonstrated a strong correlation with distant metastasis. There was no difference for molecular subtypes (luminal A, luminal B, triple-negative, and HER2) and a high Ki-67 index between metastatic and nonmetastatic groups (Table 4).

Table 4 Comparison of the prognostic factors depending on the distant metastasis

Correlation of SUVmax and ADCmean
The mean SUVmax, ADCmean, and SUVmax/ADCmean values were 12.16±8.54 (range, 1.6-52.5), 962±206×10-6 mm2/s (range, 464-1980×10-6), and 0.13±0.009, respectively. There was no correlation between ADCmean and SUVmax (correlation coefficient r=-0.017, p=0.805).

Relationships between Prognostic Factors, SUVmax, ADCmean and SUVmax/ADCmean
Univariate analysis showed that SUVmax and SUVmax/ ADCmean were significantly correlated with large tumor size (p=0.008 and p=0.002), Ki67 status (p<0.0001, p<0.0001). In terms of hormone receptor status; ER positivity was positively correlated with high SUVmax (p=0.0001) and SUVmax/ADCmean (p=0.006). PR was positively correlated with ADCmean (0.028). HER-2 positivity had no significant correlation (p>0.1) with SUVmax and ADCmean (Table 5).

Table 5 Associations of SUVmax, ADCmean, and SUVmax/ADCmean with clinicopathologic prognostic factors

The relationships between clinical stage and HG, ADCmean, SUVmax, and SUVmax/ADCmean were evaluated with Spearman's Rho coefficient. SUVmax and SUVmax/ADCmean had a positive significant association with the clinical stage (p=0.022 and r=0.159) and HG (p<0.0001 and r=0.347) (Fig. 3). However, ADCmean had no significant correlation with clinical stage and HG. When histopathological subtypes were evaluated, IDC had higher SUVmax and SUVmax/ ADCmean values compared to invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) (p=0.048).

Fig. 3. Histogram plot demonstrated the relationships between HG, ADCmean, SUVmax, and SUVmax/ ADCmean. In Spearman's Rho coefficient, SUVmax (a) and SUVmax/ADCmean (b) had a positive significant correlation with HG (p<0.0001 and r=0.347), however, ADCmean had no significant correlation (p=0.719) with clinical stage and HG (c).
HG: Histologic grade; ADC: Apparent diffusion coefficient; SUV: Standardized uptake value.


The association between the SUVmax, ADCmean, and pathologic prognostic factors in BC was analyzed previously.[5,13,14,17,18] In the current study, we also evaluated the effect of these parameters to the presence of distant metastasis in the initial diagnosis of BC and there is no previous study on this subject.

Relationships between SUVmax and ADCmean
Our study with 209 invasive BC showed no correlation between SUVmax and ADCmean. Similar to our study, many of the studies evaluating this relationship were also found no correlation between ADCmean and SUVmax. [14,17,18] In contrast, few previous studies[5,13] showed that SUVmax and ADCmean were inversely correlated. Among these studies, only Kitajima et al.[5] had a larger sample size (214 IDC patients) compared to our study and in that study, ADCmean showed a weak inverse correlation with SUVmax.

In the study of Baba et al.[17] including malignant and benign breast tumors, a linear inverse correlation was found between SUVmax and ADCmean. However, no correlation was observed when only malignant tumors were considered. Another finding determined by the author is that very high ADC values and high SUVmax do not show an inverse correlation in mucinous tumors and may affect the statistics. In these studies, we thought that differences between study subjects; sample size, histopathological subtypes, the inclusion of benign and in situ cases, may cause differences in the SUVmax and ADCmean correlation results.

Relationships between SUVmax and Prognostic Factors
In our study, the relationships between SUVmax and ADCmean values of primary breast tumor and clinicopathological prognostic factors were evaluated. We observed that high SUVmax was correlated with tumor size, ER, Ki-67, high HG, advanced TNM stage, histological subtype, and molecular subtype. These results are similar to previously published studies; SUVmax had a positive correlation with tumor size and high HG.[13,17,18] Contrary to our study, there is also a study showing that there is no relationship between HG and SUVmax.[19]

IDC is the most common type of invasive BC and the second most common tumor type is ILC. We observed a significant difference between SUVmax of the two groups of histologic types in line to previous studies.[20,21]

Higher SUV values were seen in tumors with a triple-negative hormonal profile in the current study, a finding consistent with the previous studies.[7,14,17] The majority of triple-negative tumors (80%) are the intrinsic basal type and this molecular subtype is associated with a poor prognosis due to the lack of hormonal markers used in targeted hormonal therapy.[14,17]

Ki-67 proliferation index is a marker of high mitotic activity and is useful for evaluating the degree of cellularity. Our study confirms a highly significant positive relationship between Ki-67 and enhanced glycolysis as determined by the measure of SUVmax, as observed previously.[14,20] Our study also demonstrated a strong correlation between ER negativity and high SUVmax values. SUVmax showed no significant correlation with HER-2 overexpression and PR positivity, as observed previously.[7,13,14,20,22,23]

Axillary LN positivity was not correlated with SUVmax . This finding was consistent with a previous study[17] but inconsistent with other studies.[13,18] However, our study had a larger sample size of all these studies.

Relationship between ADC and Prognostic Factors
In many studies comparing ADC in malignant and benign lesions of the breast, significantly lower ADC values and diffusion restriction were observed in malignant lesions. In vivo, perfusion is also important factor as microscopic motion that affects ADC. Increasing microvessels due to tumor angiogenesis in malignant lesions may cause an increase in ADC due to the perfusion effect.[24] Studies are showing that ER positivity causes high tumor cellularity and ER positivity causes low ADC values due to decreased intra-tumor perfusion by blocking the angiogenic pathway.[25,26]

In our study, we found a significant association between the low ADC values and ER positivity which is consistent with many of the previous studies.[11,18,24,27-30] We also observed a significant association between low ADC for PR-positive carcinomas as compared to PR-negative cancers (p=0.028). No relationship was found between Ki-67 and ADC values, supporting the similar studies.[25,30] HER-2 overexpression is associated with poor prognosis which is accompanied by angiogenesis and cellularity. Because of the increased cellularity, it can be expected low ADC values in HER-2 positive cases. [31] But in most of the studies investigating the relationship between ADC and HER-2, no correlation was found in line with our study.[11,18,28]

Ipsilateral axillary LN metastasis is the main predictor of long-term survival.[3,4] The presence of LN metastasis is very important in the decision to proceed with conservative therapy and ADC value would help staging of axillary LN non-inasively.[18] However, in the present study, ADCmean was not correlated with LN metastasis in consistence with the previous studies. [17,18,24] A few studies with small sample sizes reported that a lower ADCmean was associated with positive LN metastasis.[13,32]

Factors Affecting the Presence of Metastasis
In our study, tumor size, HER-2 overexpression, and PR positivity were determined as independent variables affecting the presence of metastasis in multivariate analysis.

Tumor size is a well-known and important prognostic factor of BC and increasing size of the breast tumor is associated with high metastatic potential and decreased overall survival.[4] Our study confirmed that the risk of distant metastasis is significantly higher in tumors larger than 2 cm, at the initial presentation.

The majority of BC cases are of the luminal-A subtype, which are hormone receptor-positive tumors (ER and/or PR) and these types of tumors are sensitive to hormonal therapies. However, cases with luminal BC constitute the majority of patients with distant metastases at the time of diagnosis and are frequently incurable. Recent studies revealed that invasiveness and metastasis of luminal BC are supported by the two isoforms of PR (PR-A and PR-B), in two different pathways. As a result of these studies, PR-A has the main responsibility in promoting invasiveness and metastasis by suppressing estrogen/ER action. Overexpression of PR-A is associated with increased invasiveness of BC and decreased disease-free survival.[33,34] In our study, a highly significant positive correlation was found between PR positivity in the breast tumor and the presence of distant metastasis at the time of diagnosis.

HER-2 oncoprotein is responsible for cancer development by stimulating cell proliferation. HER-2 also increased angiogenesis through up-regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and increasing microvascular density of the tumor accompanied by increasing invasion and metastasis.[17,18,30] Our study showed that HER-2 overexpression of BC seen in 49 patients was positively and strongly associated with distant metastasis (Table 4). HG has been accepted as a prognostic factor for metastasis in the previous studies depending on tumor size.[4] In this study, HG was included in the multiple logistic regression analysis since p<0.1 in univariate analysis, but it was not an independent risk factor for the presence of distant metastases.

SUVmax/ADCmean is a combination of these parameters and it was more accurate than either SUVmax and ADCmean for demonstrating the relationships with prognostic factors. SUVmax/ADCmean was previously used in the study of Baba et al.[17] and was found useful in differentiating benign from malignant breast tumors. In our study, this ratio did not differ significantly between patients with and without distant metastases (Table 3).

This study has some limitations. First, it was performed retrospectively in a single institution. Second, metastases were evaluated only at the time of diagnosis, and metastases developed during treatment and maintenance were not evaluated due to the short follow-up period.

Third, since FDG-PET/CT is only applied to advanced- stage BC patients in our center, the number of early-stage patients was relatively low.


Both SUV and ADC are helpful parameters in determining patient prognosis in BC. There was no correlation between SUVmax and ADCmean as they are parameters based on different biological characteristics of the tumor, but both values have a complementary role in evaluating prognosis. When SUVmax and ADCmean values were evaluated separately in pre-treatment imaging, they were not associated with the presence of metastases, but the SUVmax/ADCmean ratio may be a helpful marker in predicting the presence of distant metastases. HER-2 positivity, PR positivity, and tumor size were found to be significantly associated with the presence of distant metastasis at the time of diagnosis. These findings may contribute to determining the metastasis potential of the tumor and selecting the most promising therapeutic approach in BC.

Peer-review: Externally peer-reviewed.

Conflict of Interest: All authors declared no conflict of interest.

Ethics Committee Approval: The study was approved by the University of Health Sciences İstanbul Training and Research Hospital Clinical Research Ethics Committee (no: 2279, date: 08/05/2020).

Financial Support: None declared.

Authorship contributions: Concept - K.E.Ç., M.A.N.; Design - K.E.Ç., M.A.N.; Supervision - M.B.U., E.A.; Funding - K.E.Ç., M.A.N.; Materials - K.E.Ç., M.A.N.; Data collection and/or processing - K.E.Ç., M.A.N.; Data analysis and/ or interpretation - K.E.Ç., M.A.N., M.B.U.; Literature search - K.E.Ç., M.A.N., M.B.U., E.A.; Writing - K.E.Ç., M.B.U.; Critical review - E.A.


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