Purpose: The aim of the study was to evaluate the feasibility of using the hepatocyte-specific positron emission tomography (PET) tracer 2-[(18)F]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-galactose (FDGal) as a tracer for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methods: In addition to standard clinical investigations, 39 patients with known HCC or suspected of having HCC underwent a partial-body FDGal PET/CT (from base of skull to mid-thigh). Diagnosis of HCC was based on internationally approved criteria. FDGal PET/CT images were analysed for areas with high (hot spots) or low (cold spots) tracer accumulation when compared to surrounding tissue.
Results: Seven patients did not have HCC and FDGal PET/CT was negative in each of them. Twenty-three patients had HCC and were included before treatment. FDGal PET/CT correctly identified 22 of these patients, which was comparable to contrast-enhanced CT. Interestingly, FDGal PET/CT was conclusive in 12 patients in whom conventional imaging techniques were inconclusive and required additional diagnostic investigations or close follow-up. Nine patients were included after treatment of HCC and in these patients FDGal PET/CT was able to distinguish between viable tumour tissue as hot spots and areas with low metabolic activity as cold spots. FDGal PET/CT detected extrahepatic disease in nine patients which was a novel finding in eight patients.
Conclusion: FDGal PET/CT has great clinical potential as a PET tracer for detection of extra- but also intrahepatic HCC. In the present study, the specificity of FDGal PET/CT was 100%, which is very promising but needs to be confirmed in a larger, prospective study.