The standardized uptake value (SUV) and the slope of the Patlak plot ( K) have both been proposed as indices to monitor the progress of disease during cancer therapy. Although a good correlation has been reported between SUV and K, they are not equivalent, and may not be equally affected by metabolic changes occurring during disease progression or therapy. We wished to compare changes in tumor SUV with changes in K during serial positron emission tomography (PET) scans for monitoring therapy. Thirteen patients enrolled in a protocol to treat renal cell carcinoma metastases were studied. Serial dynamic fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET scans and computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance (MR) scans were performed once prior to treatment, once at 36+/-2 days after the start of treatment, and (in 7/13 subjects, 16/27 lesions) a third time at 92+/-9 days after the start of treatment. This resulted in a total of 33 scans, and 70 tumor Patlak and SUV values (one value for each lesion at each time point). SUV and K were measured over one to four predefined tumors/patient at each time point. The input function was obtained from regions of interest over the heart, combined, if necessary, with late blood samples. Over all tumors and scans, SUV and K correlated well ( r=0.97, P<0.0001). However, change in SUV with treatment over all tumor scan pairs was much less well correlated with the corresponding change in K ( r=0.73, P<0.0001). The absolute difference in % change was outside the 95% confidence limits expected from previous variability studies in 6 of 43 pairs of tumor scans, and greater than 50% in 2 of 43 tumor scan pairs. In four of the six cases, the two indices predicted opposing therapeutic outcomes. Similar results were obtained for SUV normalized by body weight or body surface area and for SUVs using mean or maximum count. Changes in CT and MR tumor cross-product dimensions correlated poorly with each other ( r=0.47, P=NS), and so could not be used to determine the "correct" PET index. Absolute values of SUV and K correlated well over the patient population. However, when monitoring individual patient therapy serially, large differences in the % changes in the two indices were occasionally found, sometimes sufficient to produce opposing conclusions regarding the progression of disease.