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Society of Nuclear Medicine Procedure

Guideline for Lung Scintigraphy
Version 3.0, approved February 7, 2004

Authors: J. Anthony Parker, MD, PhD (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA); R. Edward Coleman, MD
(Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC); Andrew J. W. Hilson, MB, FRCP (Royal Free Hospital, London, Eng-
land); Henry D. Royal, MD (Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, St. Louis, MO); Barry A. Siegel, MD (Mallinckrodt
Institute of Radiology, St. Louis, MO); and H. Dirk Sostman, MD (New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New
York, NY).

I. Purpose
III. Examples of Clinical or Research Applica-
The purpose of this guideline is to assist nuclear
medicine practitioners in recommending, performing,
interpreting, and reporting the results of lung scinti- A. The most common indication for lung scintigra-
graphy for pulmonary embolism. phy is to determine the likelihood of pulmonary
B. Less common indications (e.g. evaluation of lung
II. Background Information and Definitions
transplantation, preoperative evaluation, right-to-
A. Aerosol Ventilation Scintigraphy left shunt evaluation) will be included in future
A diagnostic imaging test that records the bron- versions of this guideline.
chopulmonary distribution of an inhaled radioac-
tive aerosol within the lungs.
IV. Procedure
B. Gas Ventilation Scintigraphy
A diagnostic imaging test that records the pulmo- A. Patient Preparation
nary distribution of a radioactive gas during 1. A chest radiograph should be obtained before
breathing maneuvers. lung scintigraphy for pulmonary embolism.
C. Pulmonary Perfusion Scintigraphy A routine chest radiograph obtained in both
A diagnostic imaging test that records the distri- the posterior-anterior and lateral projections is
bution of pulmonary arterial blood flow. preferred. A portable anterior-posterior chest
D. Lung Scintigraphy for Pulmonary Embolism radiograph is acceptable only if the patient
A diagnostic imaging test that assesses pulmonary cannot tolerate a routine chest radiographic
perfusion and often includes ventilation scintigra- examination. In patients who have no changes
phy. in signs or symptoms, a chest radiograph

The Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) has written and approved these guidelines as an educational tool designed to promote the cost-
effective use of high-quality nuclear medicine procedures or in the conduct of research and to assist practitioners in providing appropriate
care for patients. The guidelines should not be deemed inclusive of all proper procedures nor exclusive of other procedures reasonably di-
rected to obtaining the same results. They are neither inflexible rules nor requirements of practice and are not intended nor should they be
used to establish a legal standard of care. For these reasons, SNM cautions against the use of these guidelines in litigation in which the clini-
cal decisions of a practitioner are called into question.
The ultimate judgment about the propriety of any specific procedure or course of action must be made by the physician when considering the
circumstances presented. Thus, an approach that differs from the guidelines is not necessarily below the standard of care. A conscientious
practitioner may responsibly adopt a course of action different from that set forth in the guidelines when, in his or her reasonable judgment,
such course of action is indicated by the condition of the patient, limitations on available resources, or advances in knowledge or technology
subsequent to publication of the guidelines.
All that should be expected is that the practitioner will follow a reasonable course of action based on current knowledge, available resources,
and the needs of the patient to deliver effective and safe medical care. The sole purpose of these guidelines is to assist practitioners in achiev-
ing this objective.
Advances in medicine occur at a rapid rate. The date of a guideline should always be considered in determining its current applicability.

within 1 day of scintigraphy is adequate. A 7. Results of tests for deep venous thrombosis,
more recent chest radiograph (preferably (e.g., compression ultrasonography), should
within 1 hr) is necessary in patients whose be noted.
signs and symptoms are changing. 8. The referring physician’s estimate of the prior
2. Before intravenous administration of the pul- probability of pulmonary embolism may be
monary perfusion radiopharmaceutical, the helpful.
patient should be instructed to cough and to C. Precautions
take several deep breaths. The patient should Reduced numbers of macroaggregated albumin
be in the supine position during injection, or (MAA) particles should be considered for patients
in the case of a patient with orthopnea, as with pulmonary hypertension or right-to-left
close to supine as possible. shunting, and in infants and children. In adults,
B. Information Pertinent to Performing the Pro- the number may be reduced to 100,000–200,000
cedure particles without altering the quality of the images
1. In women of childbearing age, pregnancy and for detection of perfusion defects. Inhomogene-
lactation status should be noted and the proce- ous distribution of activity may result from a re-
dure performed in a manner to minimize ra- duction of the number of particles below 100,000
diation exposure. in adults.
2. Pertinent clinical history includes, but is not D. Radiopharmaceuticals
limited to: a) right-to-left shunt; b) severe 1. Aerosols
pulmonary hypertension; c) chest pain; d) a. 99mTc diethylenetriamine-pentaacetic acid
dyspnea; e) hemoptysis; f) syncope; g) symp- (DTPA) is the preferred radiopharmaceu-
toms of deep venous thrombosis; h) oral con- tical.
traceptive use; i) recent surgery; j) prior pul- b. The usual administered activity of 99mTc
monary embolism; k) cancer; l) congestive DTPA is 900–1300 MBq (25–35 mCi) in
heart failure; m) antecedent illness; n) smok- the nebulizer, from which the patient re-
ing; and o) intravenous drug abuse. ceives approximately 20–40 MBq (0.5–1.0
3. Pertinent findings on physical examination in- mCi) to the lungs.
clude, but are not limited to: a) vital signs, c. Aerosol imaging is usually performed be-
particularly respiratory rate; b) chest examina- fore perfusion imaging because it is more
tion; c) cardiac examination; and d) leg find- difficult to deliver a larger dose of the
ings. Tc aerosol than it is to deliver a larger
4. Review of prior lung scintigraphy. Defects dose of 99mTc macroaggregated albumin
from prior pulmonary emboli do not always (MAA). Because both agents are labeled
resolve completely. with 99mTc, it is extremely important that
5. Pertinent chest radiographic findings include, the count rate of the second study is at
but are not limited to: a) consolidation; b) least three to four times the count rate of
atelectasis; c) effusions; d) masses; e) cardio- the first study.
megaly; and f) decreased pulmonary vascula- 2. Krypton-81m
ture. The chest radiograph may be normal in a. 81mKr is obtained from an 81 Rb/81mKr gen-
patients with pulmonary embolism. erator.
6. Treatment with anticoagulant or thrombolytic b. The usual administered activity of 81mKr is
therapy should be noted. 40–400 MBq (1–10 mCi).

Physical Characteristics of Radionuclides

Radionuclide T1/2 Photopeak (keV) Decay
Tc 6 hour 140 IT
Xe 5.2 days 81 Beta
Kr 13 seconds 190 IT

IT = Isomeric Transition

Radiation Dosimetry – Adults1

Radiopharmaceutical Administered Activity Organ Receiving the Largest Effective Dose
Radiation Dose
(mCi) mGy/MBq mSv/MBq
(rad/mCi) (rem/mCi)
Tc MAA1 40–150 0.067 0.012
(1–4) (0.25) (0.044)
Tc DTPA2 20–40 0.047 0.0070
(0.5–1.0) (0.17) (0.026)
133 3
Xe 200–750 0.0011 0.0008
(5–20) (0.0041) (0.0030)
Kr4 40–400 0.0068 0.00070
(1–10) (0.025) (0.0026)
ICRP 53, page 224
ICRP, page 218
ICRP, page 345, rebreathing for 5 minutes
Package insert (Mediphysics, Inc., October 1990), rebreathing for 1 minute; ICRP 53, page 160

Radiation Dosimetry in Children
(5 year old)

Radiopharmaceutical Administered Activity Organ Receiving the Largest Effective Dose
Radiation Dose
(mCi/kg) mGy/MBq mSv/MBq
(rad/mCi) (rem/mCi)
Tc MAA1 0.5–2 0.21 0.038
(0.02–0.08) (0.78) (0.14)
99m 2
Tc DTPA 0.4–0.6 0.12 0.020
(0.01–0.02) (0.44) (0.074)
Xe3 10–12 0.0037 0.0027
(0.2–0.3) (0.014) (0.01)
81m 4
Kr 0.5–5 0.022 0.0023
(0.015–0.15) (0.081) (0.0085)
ICRP 53, page 224
ICRP, page 218
ICRP, page 345, rebreathing for 5 minutes
Package insert (Mediphysics, Inc., October 1990), rebreathing for 1 minute; ICRP 53, page 160

3. Xenon-133 Kr-81m, images obtained with this gas can
The usual administered activity is 200–750 be alternated with those obtained with
MBq (5–20 mCi). The usual dose for children Tc MAA.
is 10–12 MBq/kg (0.3 mCi/kg) with a mini- f. When 99mTc labeled aerosol imaging is
mum of 100–120 MBq (3 mCi). performed before 99mTc MAA perfusion
4. Perfusion imaging, smaller amounts (40 MBq [1.0
a. The radiopharmaceutical used most com- mCi]) of activity should be administered
monly for perfusion imaging is 99mTc to the lungs.
MAA. 2. Aerosol Ventilation Imaging
b. The biological half-life of the macroag- a. The aerosol is administered through a
gregated albumin in the lungs varies (usu- mouthpiece with the nose occluded while
ally 1.5 to 3 hr). the patient is tidal breathing.
c. The usual adult administered activity is b. An advantage of aerosol imaging is that
40–150 MBq (1–4 mCi). The usual pediat- images can be obtained in multiple projec-
ric administered activity is 0.5–2.0 tions or with SPECT to match those ob-
MBq/kg (0.02–0.08 mCi/kg) with a mini- tained for perfusion imaging.
mum of 7–8 MBq (0.2 mCi). c. It is preferable to have the patient inhale
d. The number of particles should be in the the aerosol in the upright position, but the
range of 200,000–700,000. For children, supine position can be used if necessary.
the number of particles is a function of age d. Aerosol ventilation imaging can be per-
(see Table 11.2, Treves, ST. Pediatric Nu- formed at the bedside.
clear Medicine, 2nd ed. New York, NY: e. A disadvantage of aerosol imaging is that
Springer-Verlag; 1995, p.168). aerosol deposition is altered by turbulent
e. Labeled MAA particles will settle in the flow, and central deposition can result in a
vial with time. Vials should be agitated suboptimal study.
prior to withdrawing a dose, and the sy- 3. Xenon-133 Ventilation Imaging
ringe should be inverted prior to injection. a. An advantage of 133 Xe ventilation is that
E. Image Acquisition single-breath, equilibrium and washout
1. Sequence of Imaging images can be obtained, which provide a
a. A chest radiograph should be obtained and more complete characterization of ventila-
reviewed before lung scintigraphy. tion and a more sensitive test for obstruc-
b. Ventilation scintigraphy using 133Xe is tive airway disease. Physiologic informa-
usually performed before perfusion scinti- tion about ventilation can best be obtained
graphy using 99mTc. Alternately, perfusion from 133 Xe imaging.
scintigraphy can be performed first and b. The imaging room should be at negative
ventilation scintigraphy omitted if not pressure with appropriate exhaust for ra-
needed. dioactive gas. Regulations for safe han-
c. The disadvantages of performing perfu- dling of radioactive gas should be fol-
sion imaging first are: lowed.
i. With 133 Xe gas or 99mTc aerosol imag- c. The patient is positioned upright in front
ing, the perfusion image contributes of the scintillation camera. If necessary,
background activity to the ventilation the patient can be positioned supine.
image. d. The projection that best shows the de-
ii. A decision to perform or not to per- fect(s) on perfusion scintigraphy is used
form the ventilation study must be for the ventilation scintigraphy if per-
made in a timely manner. formed after perfusion scintigraphy. Oth-
d. The advantages of performing perfusion erwise, the posterior projection is gener-
imaging first are: ally used. When possible, posterior
i. If the perfusion study is normal or oblique images should be obtained during
matches the chest radiographic find- washout.
ings, the ventilation study can be omit- e. If ventilation scintigraphy is performed af-
ted. ter perfusion scintigraphy, a 99mTc back-
ii. For single-projection ventilation stud- ground image should be obtained using the
ies, the projection that best shows the Xe window.
defect can be obtained. f. A facemask or mouthpiece (with nose
e. Because of the higher energy of the clip) should be connected via a bacterial
gamma emissions and the short half-life of filter to the xenon delivery system.

g. Single-breath, equilibrium and washout 2. In patients with congestive heart failure, im-
images are obtained. proved specificity will be obtained if imaging
h. Equilibrium is obtained by breathing in a can be delayed until therapy for heart failure
closed xenon delivery system for 3–6 min- has been instituted.
utes as tolerated by the patient. G. Processing
4. Krypton-81m Imaging None.
a. The advantage of 81mKr is that images can H. Interpretation Criteria
be obtained in all views without interfer- 1. Modified PIOPED criteria: The following
ence from prior perfusion imaging. Alter- modified PIOPED criteria were derived from
nating 99mTc MAA and Kr-81m imaging a retrospective analysis of the PIOPED data-
allows ventilation and perfusion images to base. The criteria were prospectively tested
be obtained without patient repositioning and shown to be more accurate than the origi-
between paired MAA and Kr-81m views. nal PIOPED criteria.
b. The patient breathes continuously from the a. High Probability (≥80%, in the absence of
Rb/81mKr generator. Due to the short conditions known to mimic pulmonary
half-life of 81mKr, the distribution of radio- embolism)
activity approximates single-breath gas i. ≥2 large mismatched segmental perfu-
distribution. sion defects or the arithmetic equiva-
c. A medium-energy collimator is preferred lent in moderate or large and moderate
to image the 190 keV photopeak of 81mKr. defects. (A large segmental defect,
d. The disadvantage of 81mKr is that the short >75% of a segment, equals 1 segmen-
half-life of the generator decreases avail- tal equivalent; a moderate defect, 25–
ability and increases cost. 75% of a segment, equals 0.5 segmen-
5. Perfusion Imaging tal equivalents; a small defect, <25%
a. After having the patient cough and take of a segment, is not counted.)
several deep breaths, 99mTc MAA is in- ii. Two large mismatched segmental per-
jected slowly during 3–5 respiratory cycles fusion defects, or the arithmetic equi-
with the patient in the supine position. valent, are borderline for “high proba-
b. A well-flushed indwelling line can be used bility.” Individual readers may correct-
if venous access is difficult. Do not admin- ly interpret individual images with this
ister in the distal port of a Swan-Ganz pattern as “high probability.” In gen-
catheter or any indwelling line or port that eral, it is recommended that more than
contains a filter, e.g. chemotherapy line. this degree of mismatch be present for
c. Imaging is preferably performed in the up- the “high probability” category.
right position to increase chest cavity size b. Intermediate Probability (20%–79%)
and to minimize diaphragmatic motion. If i. One moderate to two large mismatched
necessary, images can be obtained in the perfusion defects or the arithmetic
supine or decubitus position. equivalent in moderate or large and
d. Planar images should be obtained in mul- moderate defects.
tiple projections including anterior, poste- ii. Single-matched ventilation-perfusion
rior, both posterior oblique, both anterior defect with a clear chest radiograph is
oblique and both lateral projections. Either borderline for “low probability” and
the anterior oblique or the lateral projec- thus should be categorized as “inter-
tions can be omitted. It may be possible to mediate” in most circumstances by
obtain only limited views in some patients. most readers, although individual read-
e. Single photon emission computed tomo- ers may correctly interpret individual
graphy (SPECT) can be used to obtain a scintigrams with this pattern as “low
three dimensional evaluation of the perfu- probability.”
sion. iii. Difficult to categorize as low or high
F. Interventions or not described as low or high.
1. In patients with acute obstructive lung disease, c. Low Probability (<19%)
the use of bronchodilator therapy before lung i. Nonsegmental perfusion defects (e.g.
scintigraphy may decrease ventilatory defects cardiomegaly, enlarged aorta, enlarged
and improve the accuracy of the study. Be- hila, elevated diaphragm).
cause perfusion defects often change as acute ii. Any perfusion defect with a substan-
obstruction resolves, patients are best imaged tially larger chest radiographic abnor-
when bronchospasm has resolved. mality.

iii. Perfusion defects matched by ventila- to posterior probability (e.g., “probability of
tion abnormality (see IV.H.1.b.ii) pro- pulmonary embolism”).
vided that there are: a) clear chest ra- 2. The report should include an assessment of
diograph; and b) some areas of normal the post-test probability of pulmonary embo-
perfusion in the lungs. lism based on the result of lung scintigraphy
iv. Any number of small perfusion defects and an estimate of the prior probability of dis-
with a normal chest radiograph. ease.
d. Normal J. Quality Control
No perfusion defects or perfusion exactly Radiochemical purity and particle size determina-
outlines the shape of the lung seen on the tion of 99mTc MAA should be performed. Recon-
chest radiograph (note that hilar and aortic stituted MAA should be stored in a refrigerator
impressions may be seen and the chest ra- and be used before expiration.
diograph and/or ventilation may be ab- K. Sources of Error
normal). 1. Perfusion images can show “hot spots” in the
2. Gestalt interpretation: The experienced nu- lung if clotting of blood occurs in the syringe
clear medicine physician may be able to pro- during the injection, or if the injection is made
vide a more accurate interpretation of the through an indwelling catheter that is not well
ventilation-perfusion study than is provided flushed.
by the criteria alone; however, his/her opin- 2. Ventilation scintigraphy is obtained at a dif-
ion is usually informed by detailed knowl- ferent point in time than the perfusion scinti-
edge of the various lung image interpretive graphy. In the intervening time, there can be
criteria. changes in ventilation and perfusion. Simi-
3. Further Interpretive Considerations larly, ventilation scintigraphy may be obtained
a. Ventilation-perfusion mismatch can result in an upright position and perfusion scintigra-
from any cause of pulmonary arterial phy injected in the supine position. These
blood flow obstruction. Although there is a changes in position may also affect the com-
very long differential diagnosis for ventila- parability of the two scintigrams.
tion-perfusion mismatch, there are few 3. Injection of 99mTc MAA through a central line
common causes: 1) acute pulmonary em- can result in inadequate mixing of activity in
bolism; 2) old pulmonary embolism; 3) the pulmonary artery. This inadequate distri-
obstruction of an artery by tumor; and 4) bution of activity is especially true if the ac-
radiation therapy. tivity is injected through a pulmonary artery
b. On perfusion scintigraphy, extrapulmon- line.
ary activity (which may be seen at the 4. A decubitus or oblique patient position can
edges of lung images in the thyroid or kid- markedly affect the distribution of ventilation
neys) may be due to either right-to-left and perfusion. If the injection for perfusion
shunt, to free Tc-99m pertechnetate or re- scintigraphy or if ventilation scintigraphy is
duced technetium compounds, or to a re- performed in the decubitus or oblique posi-
cent nuclear medicine procedure. An im- tion, mismatched patterns can result. Accord-
age of the head can be used to differentiate ingly, any nonstandard patient positioning
free pertechnetate/reduced technetium should be recorded and considered during
from a right-to-left shunt. subsequent interpretation.
c. Some authors have found that neural net-
work evaluation of lung scintigrams find-
V. Issues Requiring Further Clarification
ings assists the interpretive process.
d. The stripe sign (activity at the periphery of A. The utility of SPECT compared with planar imag-
a perfusion defect) lowers the chance of ing.
pulmonary embolism in the zone of the
perfusion defect that shows the stripe.
VI. Concise Bibliography
I. Reporting
1. The report should include a description of the A. British Thoracic Society guidelines for the man-
lung scintigraphy findings, diagnostic cate- agement of suspected acute pulmonary embolism.
gory and an overall assessment of the likeli- Thorax 2003;58:470–484.
hood of pulmonary embolism based on the Includes a discussion of the prior probability of
scintigraphic findings. Terms referring to test pulmonary embolism.
outcome (e.g., “likelihood ratio for pulmonary B. Freeman LM, Krynyckyi, B, Zuckier LS: En-
embolism”) are preferred over terms referring hanced lung scan diagnosis of pulmonary embo-

lism with the use of ancillary scintigraphic find-
ings and clinical correlation. Semin Nucl Med
Good discussion of many ancillary signs that
can be helpful when interpreting V/Q studies.
C. Gottschalk A, Sostman HD, Coleman RE, et al.
Ventilation-perfusion scintigraphy in the PIOPED
study. Part II. Evaluation of the scintigraphic cri-
teria and interpretations. J Nucl Med 1993;34:
The PIOPED database was reviewed retro-
spectively and modified PIOPED criteria were
D. Kahn D, Bushnell DL, Dean R, et al. Clinical out-
come of patients with a “low probability” of pul-
monary embolism on ventilation-perfusion lung
scan. Arch Intern Med 1989;149:377–379.
Patients without documented thromboembolic
disease who have low likelihood results from their
lung scintigraphy have little thromboembolic dis-
ease in follow-up.
E. Lee ME, Biello DR, Kumar B, et al. “Low-
probability” ventilation perfusion scintigrams:
clinical outcomes in 99 patients. Radiology 1985;
156:497– 500.
F. Smith R, Maher JM, Miller RI, et al. Clinical out-
comes of patients with suspected pulmonary em-
bolism and low-probability aerosol-perfusion
scintigrams. Radiology 1987;164:731–733.
G. PIOPED Investigators. Value of the ventila-
tion/perfusion scan in acute pulmonary embolism:
Results of the prospective investigation of pul-
monary embolism diagnosis (PIOPED). JAMA
The PIOPED criteria for interpretation of lung
scintigraphy (see IV.H.1) were tested prospec-
H. Sostman HD, Coleman RE, DeLong DM, et al.
Evaluation of revised criteria for ventilation-
perfusion scintigraphy in patients with suspected
pulmonary embolism. Radiology 1994;193:103–
The revised PIOPED criteria were tested pro-
spectively. The gestalt interpretation of lung scin-
tigraphy by experienced observers outperformed
both the PIOPED and modified PIOPED criteria.
I. Wells PS, Ginsberg JS, Anderson DR et al: Use
of a clinical model for safe management of pa-
tients with suspected pulmonary embolism. Ann
Intern Med 1998;129:997–1005.
Management of patients with suspected pulmo-
nary embolism on the basis of pretest probability
and results of ventilation-perfusion scanning.