PET scans identify cervical cancer patients with poorer prognosis

In collaboration with the Press Association

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans may enable doctors to identify women with cervical cancer whose prognosis is particularly poor.

Experts at Washington University found that tumours that glow brightly in a PET scan tend to be associated with poorer prognosis than those that are less bright.

Lead author Dr Elizabeth Kidd, a resident in the university's department of radiation oncology, said: "We've seen that among patients with the same stage of cervical cancer, there will be some patients who don't respond to treatment as well as others.

"Our study suggests that PET can reliably identify patients who have a poorer prognosis."

PET scans measure how active a tissue is, by measuring how quickly it uses up glucose.

By labelling glucose molecules with a radioactive tracer, scientists and doctors can 'see' how active a tissue is by how brightly it 'glows' under a PET scanner.

Of the 287 patients involved in the research, those with the 'brightest' tumours were more likely to have aggressive disease, cancerous cells in their lymph nodes, recurrence of disease in their pelvis and a lower survival rate.

Patients with the least bright cancers had a survival rate of 95 per cent at five years, compared to 70 per cent in the middle range and just 44 per cent in the highest range.

The researchers used a technique called FDG-PET, the form of PET scan most frequently used when a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Dr Kidd said the findings, which are published in the journal Cancer, suggest that FDG-PET "can tell physicians how well a patient will respond to treatment and should be part of the evaluation process".

Dr Kidd added that patients with highly active tumours at diagnosis should be followed more closely than other patients and may require more aggressive treatment.