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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Sep;970:159-69.

The role of PET in localization of neuroendocrine and adrenocortical tumors.

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Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University PET-Centre, University Hospital, S-751 85 Uppsala, Sweden.


Positron emission tomography (PET) supplies a range of labeled compounds to be used for the characterization of tumor biochemistry. Some of these have proved to be of value for clinical diagnosis, treatment follow up, and clinical research. The first routinely used PET tracer in oncology, (18)F-labeled deoxyglucose (FDG), was successfully used for diagnosis of cancer, reflecting increased expression of glucose transporter in cancerous tissue. This tracer, however, usually does not show sufficient uptake in well-differentiated tumors such as neuroendocrine tumors. We developed a tracer more specific to neuroendocrine tumors-the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) labeled with (11)C-and demonstrated increased uptake and irreversible trapping of this tracer in carcinoid tumors. The uptake was so selective and the resolution was so high that we could detect more liver and lymph node metastases with PET than with CT or octreotide scintigraphy. To further improve the method, especially to reduce the high renal excretion of the tracer producing streaky artifacts in the area of interest, we introduced premedication by the decarboxylase inhibitor carbidopa, leading to a six-fold decreased renal excretion while the tumor uptake increased three-fold, hence improving the visualization of the tumors. (11)C-labeled l-DOPA was evaluated as an alternative tracer, especially for endocrine pancreatic tumors, which usually do not demonstrate enhanced urinary serotonin metabolites. However, only half of the EPTs, mainly functioning tumors, could be detected with l-DOPA. Instead 5-HTP seems to be a universal tracer for EPT and foregut carcinoids. With new, more sensitive PET cameras, larger field of view and procedures for whole-body coverage, the PET examination with 5-HTP is now routinely performed as reduced whole-body PET examinations with coverage of the thorax and abdomen. With this method we have been able to visualize small neuroendocrine lesions in the pancreas and thorax (e.g., ACTH-producing bronchial carcinoids) not detectable by any other method, including octreotide scintigraphy, MRI, and CT. Another tracer, the 11beta-hydroxylase inhibitor, metomidate labeled with (11)C, was developed to simplify diagnosis and follow-up of patients with incidentalomas. A large series of patients with incidentally found adrenal masses have been investigated and so far all lesions of adrenocortical origin have been easily identified because of exceedingly high uptake of (11)C-metomidate, whereas noncortical lesions showed very low uptake. In addition, adrenocortical cancer shows high uptake, suggesting that this PET tracer can be used for staging purposes.

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