Standardized uptake value (SUV)

Standardized uptake value, SUV, (also referred to as the dose uptake ratio, DUR) is a widely used, robust PET quantifier, calculated simply as a ratio of tissue radioactivity concentration (for example in units [kBq/mL]) at time T, CPET(T), and administered dose (for example in units [MBq]) at the time of injection divided by body weight (usually in units [kg]).

If the above mentioned units are used, the unit of SUV will be [g/ml]. Tissue radioactivity and dose must be decay corrected to the same time point.

Instead of the body weight, the administered dose may also be corrected by the lean body mass (LBM) (Tahari et al., 2014; Keramida et al., 2015), or body surface area (BSA) (Kim et al., 1994); for FDG PET studies the SUVLBM is recommended (Tahari et al., 2014; Keramida et al., 2015).

Verbraecken et al. (2006) review the different formulas for calculating the BSA. Tahari et al. (2014) recommends using the LBM calculation formula developed by Janmahasatian et al. (2005) for men:

and for women:

Calculation of SUV does not require blood sampling or dynamic imaging. The imaging must take place at a late time point, and always at the same time point, if results are to be compared (Eckelman et al., 2000).

In FDG studies SUV can be corrected for plasma glucose level, because glucose transporters may be saturated by glucose. SUV is multiplied by plasma glucose concentration / 5.0 (5.0 represents the population average of plasma glucose concentration). Increased plasma glucose concentration may introduce also regional changes in FDG uptake, resembling Alzheimer disease -like patterns in the brain (Ishibashi et al., 2015).

Cancer treatment response is usually assessed with FDG PET by calculating the SUV on the highest image pixel in the tumour regions (SUVmax), because this provides lower inter-observer variability than averaged SUV (SUVmean). Alternatively, tumour volume can be estimated using threshold or region growing techniques, and average SUV inside the region is reported as such or multiplied by tumour volume to calculate the total glycolytic volume, TGV (Boucek et al., 2008). Nahmias and Wahl (2008) reported that the use of SUVmax has worse reproducibility (3% ± 11%) than does the SUVmean value (1% ± 7%), and Burger et al (2012) confirmed that repeatability of SUVmean is superior to SUVmax. SUVmax is also affected by image reconstruction parameters, for example, point-spread-function (PSF) and time-of-flight (TOF) reconstruction provide higher SUVmax values (Rogasch et al., 2015). SUVpeak, based on a spherical volume of interest (VOI) having a volume of ~1 mL in a position that provides the maximal VOI average, avoids the noise-induced bias of SUVmax, but is less sensitive to image characteristics (Lodge et al, 2012). Combination of SUVmax and SUVpeak (Lasnon et al., 2013) should become the standard approach in multi-centre FDG PET/CT studies (Boellaard, 2013).

SUV drawbacks

SUV is vulnerable to several major sources of variability (Hamberg et al. 1994; Keyes 1995; Huang 2000; Laffon et al. 2008), and the application of SUV as a quantitative index should be discouraged. The only reason for its continuous usage is that dynamic imaging and blood sampling are not necessary.

Although SUV and Ki may correlate well over the patient population, they may provide even opposite conclusions regarding the progression of disease (Freedman et al., 2003). Image noise, poor resolution and ROI definition affect the SUV and may hamper their use, especially in multi-centre trials (Boellaard et al., 2004).

In oncological (multi-centre) studies variance in SUV may be reduced by dividing tumor SUVmax or SUVpeak by SUV in liver. Any calibration problems cancel out in this method, which essentially is the same as tissue-to-reference tissue ratio at a late time point. Tumour-to-blood ratio at a late time point has been shown to correlate with metabolic rate of FDG in tumors (van den Hoff et al., 2013; Hofheinz et al., 2016). It is the preferred method over tumour-to-liver ratio, especially if blood activity can be determined from the same PET image; then the possible issues in calibration are again avoided. If blood or liver activity cannot be determined from the PET image, then the single venous blood sample is relatively easy to obtain.

If blood curve has been measured, a simple but quantitative alternative to SUV is fractional uptake rate (FUR), which is an approximation to the Patlak slope Ki, but does not require dynamic PET scan. FUR and SUV are proportional, related by plasma clearance rate and a dimensionless initial distribution volume (Thie, 1995).


In animal studies, dissected tissue samples are weighted and radioactivity is measured. Radioactivity is divided by sample weight to calculate the concentration (Bq/g). With injected dose and animal weight the SUV could be calculated similarly as from PET data. However, in animal studies the animal weight is often not taken into account: radioactivity concentration is simply divided by injected dose and multiplied by 100, and outcome is percent of injected dose per gram of tissue (%i.d./g).

Similar calculation can be done to PET data. In PET image the radioactivity concentration is measured per tissue volume (Bq/mL) instead of mass, and therefore the outcome will be in units %i.d./mL or %i.d./L. If tissue density (g/mL) is known or assumed to be 1 g/mL, it can be converted to %i.d./g.

See also:


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RSNA. Standardized Uptake Value (SUV)

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Created at: 2008-11-20
Updated at: 2017-09-27
Written by: Vesa Oikonen