Purpose: To assess the presence and pattern of incidental interstitial lung alterations suspicious of COVID-19 on fluorine-18-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) ([18F]FDG PET/CT) in asymptomatic oncological patients during the period of active COVID-19 in a country with high prevalence of the virus. Methods: This is a multi-center retrospective observational study involving 59 Italian centers. We retrospectively reviewed the prevalence of interstitial pneumonia detected during the COVID period (between March 16 and 27, 2020) and compared to a pre-COVID period (January–February 2020) and a control time (in 2019). The diagnosis of interstitial pneumonia was done considering lung alterations of CT of PET. Results: Overall, [18F]FDG PET/CT was performed on 4008 patients in the COVID period, 19,267 in the pre-COVID period, and 5513 in the control period. The rate of interstitial pneumonia suspicious for COVID-19 was significantly higher during the COVID period (7.1%) compared with that found in the pre-COVID (5.35%) and control periods (5.15%) (p < 0.001). Instead, no significant difference among pre-COVID and control periods was present. The prevalence of interstitial pneumonia detected at PET/CT was directly associated with geographic virus diffusion, with the higher rate in Northern Italy. Among 284 interstitial pneumonia detected during COVID period, 169 (59%) were FDG-avid (average SUVmax of 4.1). Conclusions: A significant increase of interstitial pneumonia incidentally detected with [18F]FDG PET/CT has been demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of interstitial pneumonia were FDG-avid. Our results underlined the importance of paying attention to incidental CT findings of pneumonia detected at PET/CT, and these reports might help to recognize early COVID-19 cases guiding the subsequent management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2871-2882
JournalEuropean Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Asymptomatic
  • COVID-19
  • Incidental findings
  • Interstitial pneumonia
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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