Metabolic Response of Rectal Cancer Assessed by 18-FDG PET Following Chemoradiotherapy is Prognostic for Patient Outcome

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Complete pathological response has proven prognostic benefits in patients with locally advanced rectal cancer treated with neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy. Sequential 18-FDG PET may be an early surrogate for pathological response to chemoradiotherapy.


The aim of this study was to identify whether metabolic response measured by FDG PET following chemoradiotherapy is prognostic for tumor recurrence and survival following neoadjuvant therapy and surgical treatment for primary rectal cancer.


Patients with primary rectal cancer treated by long-course neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy followed by surgery had FDG PET performed before and 4 weeks after treatment, before surgical resection was performed. Retrospective chart review was undertaken for patient demographics, tumor staging, recurrence rates, and survival.


Between 2000 and 2007, 78 patients were identified (53 male, 25 female; median age, 64 y). After chemoradiotherapy, 37 patients (47%) had a complete metabolic response, 26 (33%) had a partial metabolic response, and 14 (18%) had no metabolic response as assessed by FDG PET (1 patient had missing data). However, only 4 patients (5%) had a complete pathological response. The median postoperative follow-up period was 3.1 years during which 14 patients (19%) had a recurrence: 2 local, 9 distant, and 3 with both local and distant. The estimated percentage without recurrence was 77% at 5 years (95% CI 66%–89%). There was an inverse relationship between FDG PET metabolic response and the incidence of recurrence within 3 years (P = .04). Kaplan-Meier analysis of FDG PET metabolic response and overall survival demonstrated a significant difference in survival among patients in the 3 arms: complete, partial, and no metabolic response (P = .04); the patients with complete metabolic response had the best prognosis.


Complete or partial metabolic response on PET following neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy and surgery predicts a lower local recurrence rate and improved survival compared with patients with no metabolic response. Metabolic response may be used to stratify prognosis in patients with rectal cancer.

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