Pancreatic cancers are thought to be unusually hypoxic, which might sensitize them to drugs that are activated under hypoxic conditions. In order to develop this idea in the clinic, a minimally invasive technique for measuring the oxygenation status of pancreatic cancers is needed.
Methods: We tested the potential for minimally invasive imaging of hypoxia in pancreatic cancer patients, using the 2-nitroimidazole PET tracer (18)F-fluoroazomycin arabinoside (or (18)F-1-α-D-[5-fluoro-5-deoxyarabinofuranosyl]-2-nitroimidazole [(18)F-FAZA]). Dynamic and static scans were obtained in 21 patients with either locally advanced or metastatic disease. The hypoxic fraction was determined in the 2-h static scans as the percentage of voxels with SUVs more than 3 SDs from the mean values obtained for skeletal muscle.
Results: Hypoxia was detected in 15 of 20 evaluable patients, with the hypoxic fraction ranging from less than 5% to greater than 50%. Compartmental analysis of the dynamic scans allowed us to approximate the tumor perfusion as mL/min/g of tissue, a value that is independent of the extent of hypoxia derived from tracer uptake in the 2-h static scan. There was no significant correlation between tumor perfusion and hypoxia; nor did we see an association between tumor volume and hypoxia.
Conclusion: Although pancreatic cancers can be highly hypoxic, a substantial proportion appears to be well oxygenated. Therefore, we suggest that a minimally invasive technique such as the one described in this study be used for patient stratification in future clinical trials of hypoxia-targeting agents.
Keywords: FAZA; hypoxia; pancreatic cancer; perfusion.
© 2016 by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, Inc.