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Cancer. 1991 Feb 15;67(4 Suppl):1261-70.

Single photon emission computed tomography and positron emission tomography in cancer imaging.

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  • 1Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710.


Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) are now being used to improve the information available from radioisotopic imaging of patients with cancer. These nuclear medicine techniques offer the potential for studying regional function and biochemistry by using radiolabeled substrates. The chemical changes of malignancy precede anatomic changes, and PET and/or SPECT may detect these changes before anatomic changes have occurred. The superiority of SPECT compared with planar imaging has been demonstrated for cardiac and brain imaging. Radiopharmaceuticals containing technetium 99 m (99mTc) are best suited for SPECT imaging because large amounts of radioactivity are administered and the collimator-camera systems are optimized for the 140 keV photons of 99mTc. The current interest in imaging cancer with SPECT relates to the use of gallium 67 citrate and monoclonal antibodies labeled with iodine 123 or indium 111. SPECT can image these radioisotopes, but the advantages compared with planar imaging have not been clearly defined. Furthermore, the ability to quantitate the distribution of single photon emitters other than 99mTc has not been demonstrated. New SPECT systems with three heads or rings of detectors offer promise for improved, quantitative imaging. PET has the capability of imaging tracers with the biologically important elements C-11, N-13, O-15, and F-18 used for positron labeling. These radioisotopes have short half-lives and require a cyclotron close to the PET facility. The most prominently used radiopharmaceutical for PET is F-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). PET studies with FDG in patients with primary brain tumors have demonstrated the ability to determine the degree of malignancy, to differentiate necrosis from recurrent tumor after radiation therapy or chemotherapy, and to predict prognosis. Other metabolic functions of cancer have been studied, including amino acid accumulation, thymidine uptake, oxygen utilization, intermediary metabolism, and receptor status. PET has the potential to make a major impact on the characterization of a malignancy and the effect of therapy.

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