PET Radiopharmaceuticals for Imaging of Tumor Hypoxia: A Review of the Evidence

Am J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 2014 Jun 7;4(4):365-84. eCollection 2014.


Hypoxia is a pathological condition arising in living tissues when oxygen supply does not adequately cover the cellular metabolic demand. Detection of this phenomenon in tumors is of the utmost clinical relevance because tumor aggressiveness, metastatic spread, failure to achieve tumor control, increased rate of recurrence, and ultimate poor outcome are all associated with hypoxia. Consequently, in recent decades there has been increasing interest in developing methods for measurement of oxygen levels in tumors. Among the image-based modalities for hypoxia assessment, positron emission tomography (PET) is one of the most extensively investigated based on the various advantages it offers, i.e., broad range of radiopharmaceuticals, good intrinsic resolution, three-dimensional tumor representation, possibility of semiquantification/quantification of the amount of hypoxic tumor burden, overall patient friendliness, and ease of repetition. Compared with the other non-invasive techniques, the biggest advantage of PET imaging is that it offers the highest specificity for detection of hypoxic tissue. Starting with the 2-nitroimidazole family of compounds in the early 1980s, a great number of PET tracers have been developed for the identification of hypoxia in living tissue and solid tumors. This paper provides an overview of the principal PET tracers applied in cancer imaging of hypoxia and discusses in detail their advantages and pitfalls.

Keywords: 18F-FAZA; 18F-FDG; 18F-FMISO; 64Cu-ATSM; Hypoxia; PET; tumor imaging.

Publication types

  • Review