Background: Molecular imaging using positron emission tomography/ computerized tomography (PET/CT) may add relevant incremental diagnostic information to standard structural cross-sectional imaging. Such information may allow identification of patients with rectal cancer that are more likely to develop complete tumor regression after neoadjuvant chemoradiation therapy (CRT). The objective of this report was to identify PET/CT features that are associated with a complete response after CRT. Methods: 99 cT2-4N0-2M0 distal rectal cancer patients (≤7 cm from anal verge) were included in this prospective single center trial (NCT 00254683). Patients underwent baseline PET/CT followed by 54 Gy and 5-fluorouracil-based neoadjuvant CRT. After completion of therapy, patients underwent 6- and 12-week PET/CT. Clinical assessment of tumor response was performed at 12 weeks and was blinded to radiological information. Patients were treated according to clinical assessment. Results: There were seven patients with a complete pathological response (pCR) and 16 with a complete clinical response (cCR) (23 complete responders). Comparison of pCR exclusively and non-pCR revealed that only baseline primary tumor standard uptake value (SUV) was a significant predictor of response. Comparison of complete responders (pCR or cCR) and non-complete responders showed that depth of rectal wall uptake at baseline PET/CT (p = 0.002) and variation between baseline and 12-week maximum standard uptake value (SUVmax) of primary tumor (p = 0.001) were independent predictors for complete response at multivariate analysis. A decrease >67 % between baseline and 6-week or 76 % between baseline and 12-week SUVmax were associated with complete response (pCR or cCR; p = 0.02 and p < 0.001, respectively). Conclusions: Positron emission tomography/computerized tomography at baseline, 6 and 12 weeks, may provide information regarding patients with a higher likelihood of developing complete tumor regression following neoadjuvant CRT.
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