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Role of PET/CT and Therapy Management of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors.

  • Calabrò, Diletta1, 2
  • Argalia, Giulia1, 2
  • Ambrosini, Valentina1, 2
  • 1 Department of Nuclear Medicine, IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliera-Universitaria di Bologna, 40138 Bologna, Italy. , (Italy)
  • 2 Department of Nuclear Medicine, DIMES University of Bologna, 40138 Bologna, Italy. , (Italy)
Published Article
Publication Date
Dec 07, 2020
DOI: 10.3390/diagnostics10121059
PMID: 33297381


Pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (panNENs) are heterogeneous neoplasms with neuroendocrine differentiation that show peculiar clinical and histomorphological features, with variable prognosis. In recent years, advances in knowledge regarding the pathophysiology and heterogeneous clinical presentation, as well as the availability of different diagnostic procedures for panNEN diagnosis and novel therapeutic options for patient clinical management, has led to the recognition of the need for an active multidisciplinary discussion for optimal patient care. Molecular imaging with positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) has become indispensable for the management of panNENs. Several PET radiopharmaceuticals can be used to characterize either panNEN receptor expression or metabolism. The aim of this review is to offer an overview of all the currently used radiopharmaceuticals and of the new upcoming tracers for pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (panNETs), and their clinical impact on therapy management. [68Ga]Ga-DOTA-peptide PET/CT (SSA-PET/CT) has high sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy and is recommended for the staging and restaging of any non-insulinoma well-differentiated panNEN cases to carry out detection of unknown primary tumor sites or early relapse and for evaluation of in vivo somatostatin receptors expression (SRE) to select patient candidates for peptide receptor radiometabolic treatment (PRRT) with 90Y or 177Lu and/or cold analogs. SSA-PET/CT also has a strong impact on clinical management, leading to a change in treatment in approximately a third of the cases. Its role for treatment response assessment is still under debate due to the lack of standardized criteria, even though some semiquantitative parameters seem to be able to predict response. [18F]FDG PET/CT generally shows low sensitivity in small growing and well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumors (NET; G1 and G2), while it is of utmost importance in the evaluation and management of high-grade NENs and also provides important prognostic information. When positive, [18F]FDG PET/CT impacts therapeutical management, indicating the need for a more aggressive treatment regime. Although FDG positivity does not exclude the patient from PRRT, several studies have demonstrated that it is certainly useful to predict response, even in this setting. The role of [18F]FDOPA for the study of panNET is limited by physiological uptake in the pancreas and is therefore not recommended. Moreover, it provides no information on SRE that has crucial clinical management relevance. Early acquisition of the abdomen and premedication with carbidopa may be useful to increase the accuracy, but further studies are needed to clarify its utility. GLP-1R agonists, such as exendin-4, are particularly useful for benign insulinoma detection, but their accuracy decreases in the case of malignant insulinomas. Being a whole-body imaging technique, exendin-PET/CT gives important preoperative information on tumor size and localization, which is fundamental for surgical planning as resection (enucleation of the lesion or partial pancreatic resection) is the only curative treatment. New upcoming tracers are under study, such as promising SSTR antagonists, which show a favorable biodistribution and higher tumor-to-background ratio that increases tumor detection, especially in the liver. [68Ga]pentixafor, an in vivo marker of CXCR4 expression associated with the behavior of more aggressive tumors, seems to only play a limited role in detecting well-differentiated NET since there is an inverse expression of SSTR2 and CXCR4 in G1 to G3 NETs with an elevation in CXCR4 and a decrease in SSTR2 expression with increasing grade. Other tracers, such as [68Ga]Ga-PSMA, [68Ga]Ga-DATA-TOC, [18F]SiTATE, and [18F]AlF-OC, are also under investigation.

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