Analysis of the intra- and intertumoral heterogeneity of hypoxia in pancreatic cancer patients receiving the nitroimidazole tracer pimonidazole

Br J Cancer. 2015 Sep 15;113(6):864-71. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2015.284. Epub 2015 Sep 1.


Background: Hypoxia is thought to be an adverse feature of pancreatic cancer, but direct measurement in patients is technically challenging. To address this, we characterised the intra/interpatient heterogeneity of hypoxia in surgical specimens from patients who received the 2-nitroimidazole tracer pimonidazole pre-operatively.

Methods: Pimondazole was given intravenously 16-20 h before pancreatectomy, and the extent and intratumoral heterogeneity of hypoxia determined by image analysis applied to multiple tissue blocks stained by immunohistochemistry. Intra/interpatient heterogeneity was estimated by variance component analysis.

Results: Pimonidazole staining was analysed in 10 tumours. The extent of labelling varied amongst patients (0-26%), with a broader range of hypoxia in the epithelial (1-39%) compared with the stromal (1-13%) compartments. Variance component analysis demonstrated greater inter- than intrapatient variability of hypoxia, and that multiple (4-5) tumour sections are required to provide a consistent evaluation of its extent in individual tumours.

Conclusions: There is significant intra- and intertumoral heterogeneity of hypoxia in pancreatic cancers, and these do not appear to be generally more hypoxic than other cancer types. This study establishes the feasibility to assess hypoxia in pancreatic cancer patients using pimonidazole, but questions the reliability of measurements made using a single tissue section.

Trial registration: NCT01248637.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / surgery
  • Cell Hypoxia*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Indicators and Reagents / administration & dosage
  • Indicators and Reagents / metabolism*
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Nitroimidazoles / administration & dosage
  • Nitroimidazoles / metabolism*
  • Pancreas / metabolism
  • Pancreatectomy
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Premedication
  • Selection Bias


  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Nitroimidazoles
  • pimonidazole

Associated data