Purpose: Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR-2), epidermal growth factor receptor-1 (EGFR) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) stimulate key processes involved in tumour progression and are important targets for cancer therapeutics. (18)F-FDG maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax) on PET/CT is a marker of tumour metabolic activity. The purpose of this study was to measure percentage reductions in SUVmax (∆SUVmax%), VEGFR-2 (∆VEGFR-2%), EGFR (∆EGFR%) and COX-2 (∆COX-2%) in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) after preoperative treatment, and to correlate the changes in these markers of response with pathological response in terms of tumour regression grade (TRG) using Rödel's scale and long-term clinical outcome.
Methods: VEGFR-2, EGFR and COX-2 were measured using a quantitative and qualitative compound immunohistochemistry analysis (immunoreactive score) of the pretreatment endoscopic biopsy and definitive surgical specimens. Composite indexes using ∆SUVmax% and the three molecules were developed to differentiate patients with metabolic and molecular responses from nonresponders. Cox proportional hazards model was used to explore associations between the tumour markers, disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS).
Results: The analysis included 38 patients with a median follow-up of 86 months (range 5 - 113 months). The ∆VEGFR-2%/∆SUVmax% index correctly identified 13 of 19 pathological responders (TRG 3 and 4) and 17 of 19 nonresponders (TRG 0 - 2) (sensitivity 68 %, specificity 89 %, accuracy 79 %, positive predictive value 87 %, negative predictive value 74 %). In multivariate analysis, only the ∆VEGFR-2%/∆SUVmax% index was associated with DFS (HR 0.11, p = 0.001) and OS (HR 0.15, p = 0.02).
Conclusion: In patients with LARC the ∆VEGFR-2%/∆SUVmax% response index is associated with outcome. Determination of the optimal diagnostic cut-off level for this novel biomarker association should be explored. Evaluation in a clinical trial is required to determine whether selected patients could benefit from treatment with a VEGFR-targeted therapeutic agent.
Keywords: 18F-FDG PET/CT SUVmax; Locally advanced rectal cancer; Long-term outcomes; Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy; VEGFR-2.