Purpose: The purpose of this prospective study was to determine the ability of fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography to assess extent of pathologically confirmed rectal cancer response to preoperative radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy.
Methods: Patients with primary rectal cancer deemed eligible for preoperative radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy because of a clinically bulky or tethered tumor or endorectal ultrasound evidence of T3 and/or N1 were prospectively enrolled. Positron emission tomography and CT scans were obtained before preoperative radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy (5,040 cGy to the pelvis and 2 cycles of bolus 5-fluorouracil with leucovorin) and repeated four to five weeks after completion of radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy. In addition to routine pathologic staging, detailed assessment of rectal cancer response to preoperative radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy was performed independently by two pathologists. Positron emission tomography parameters studied included conventional measures such as standardized uptake value (average and maximum), positron emission tomography-derived tumor volume (size), and two novel parameters: visual response score and change in total lesion glycolysis.
Results: Of 21 patients enrolled, prospective data (pretreatment and posttreatment positron emission tomography, and complete pathologic assessment) were available on 15 patients. All 15 demonstrated pathologic response to preoperative radiation and 5-fluorouracil-based chemotherapy. This was confirmed in 100 percent of the cases by positron emission tomography compared with 78 percent (7/9) by CT. In addition, one positron emission tomography parameter (visual response score) accurately estimated the extent of pathologic response in 60 percent (9/15) of cases compared with 22 percent (2/9) of cases with CT.
Conclusions: This pilot study demonstrates that fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography imaging adds incremental information to the preoperative assessment of patients with rectal cancer. However, further studies in a larger series of patients are needed to verify these findings and to determine the value of fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography in a preoperative strategy aimed at identifying patients suitable for sphincter-preserving rectal cancer surgery.