Review Article

Positron emission tomography (PET) in endocrine tumours

DOI: 10.1080/22201009.2007.10872153
Author(s): J M WarwickNuclear Medicine, Department of Medical Imaging and Clinical Oncology,, A EllmannNuclear Medicine, Department of Medical Imaging and Clinical Oncology,, F S HoughEndocrinology, Department of Internal Medicine,


Positron emission tomography (PET) has many clinical applications in oncology, neurology and cardiology. PET is widely available in developed countries, and has also become available in a number of middle-income countries, including South Africa. Commonly used PET radionuclides include fluorine-18, carbon-11, nitrogen-13 and oxygen-15, which are commonly found in organic chemistry and biochemistry. Undoubtedly the most important radiopharmaceutical used in PET scanning at present is [F-18]-FDG, which accumulates in many tumour cells. FDG PET imaging has some specific uses in the evaluation of patients with endocrine tumours. These include the detection of recurrent differentiated thyroid carcinoma in patients with a rising thyroglobulin level and negative iodine scan, and cases of recurrent medullary thyroid carcinoma with rising calcitonin levels. In parathyroid adenoma, FDG PET appears useful in cases where conventional nuclear medicine imaging is negative. For adrenal masses, FDG PET appears to be a highly accurate tool to distinguish benign from malignant lesions. The role of FDG PET in phaeochromocytomas, carcinoids and endocrine pancreatic tumours is probably limited to those that are less well differentiated and metabolically active. However, a future role for PET imaging in the detection of endocrine tumours, using more specific substrates, appears very promising.

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