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Is there a role for 11C-choline PET/CT in the early detection of metastatic disease in surgically treated prostate cancer patients with a mild PSA increase <1.5 ng/ml?

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The aim of this study was to evaluate the potential usefulness of whole-body 11C-choline PET/CT in the re-staging of prostate cancer (PC) patients previously treated with radical prostatectomy (RP), who presented a mild increase of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) <1.5 ng/ml (early biochemical relapse) during follow-up (FU).


We evaluated 102 consecutive patients (mean age = 68 years, range = 54–82 years) previously treated with RP and who presented during FU a mild increase of trigger PSA serum levels <1.5 ng/ml: mean 0.86 ± 0.40 ng/ml (range 0.2–1.5) and median 0.93 ng/ml (range 0.67–1.10). In this patient series 11C-choline PET/CT was used as the first imaging examination at the time of the detection of a mild serum PSA increase <1.5 ng/ml. 11C-Choline PET/CT was performed following standard procedures in our centre. At the time of PET/CT, 86 patients were not receiving any pharmacologic treatment, while 16 were under anti-androgenic therapy. Positive PET findings were validated by: (a) transrectal ultrasound (TRUS)-guided biopsy in cases of local recurrence, (b) surgical lymphadenectomy, (c) other imaging procedures or (d) FU lasting for at least 12 months. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to evaluate the following variables: age, TNM staging, Gleason score, time from RP to the biochemical relapse, anti-androgen therapy at the time of 11C-choline PET/CT scan, trigger PSA value and PSA kinetics, i.e. PSA doubling time (PSAdt) and PSA velocity (PSAvel), in order to assess the significant predictive factors related to the findings of a positive 11C-choline PET/CT scan.


Overall, 11C-choline PET/CT showed positive findings in 29 of 102 patients (28% of cases). In detail, 11C-choline PET/CT detected: local relapse in 7 patients, bone metastases in 13 patients (4 single and 9 multiple) and lymph node metastases in 9 patients (6 single and 3 multiple). Positive PET findings were validated by: (a) TRUS-guided biopsy in 7 patients with local recurrence, (b) surgery and lymphadenectomy in 3 patients, (c) other targeted imaging procedures (MR or bone scan) in 5 patients and (d) clinical FU lasting a minimum of 12 months and including also a contrast-enhanced CT (CECT), an MR, a bone scan and a repeated 11C-choline PET/CT in 14 patients. Age, time to biochemical relapse (TTR), initial T staging, Gleason score and trigger PSA were not statistically significant in predicting a positive 11C-choline PET/CT scan both at univariate and multivariate analysis. Instead, PSA kinetics (PSAdt and PSAvel), N status and anti-androgenic therapy at the time of PET scan were statistically significant predictive factors at univariate analysis. Of note, only PSAdt and initial N status were found to be significant and independent predictive factors at multivariate analysis. The mean PSAdt in PET-positive patients was 4.34 months (SD 2.82) while in PET-negative patients it was 13.30 months (SD 9.75) (p = 0.0001). The optimal threshold for PSAdt established by receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) analysis was 7.25 months (AUC 0.85; 95% confidence interval 0.77–0.91) providing 93% sensitivity, 74% specificity, 60% positive predictive value and 96% negative predictive value.


In our study, 11C-choline PET/CT was able to detect recurrent disease in 28% of the patients with mild biochemical relapse characterized by very low trigger PSA levels (PSA <1.5 ng/ml). Very interestingly 11C-choline PET/CT detected distant unexpected metastases in 21% of the patients. At multivariate statistical analysis only PSAdt and node status were shown to be significant and independent predictive factors for positive 11C-choline PET/CT. Therefore, 11C-choline could be suggested to be performed early during initial biochemical relapse in patients presenting with fast PSA kinetics. The early detection of the site of recurrence could lead to a prompt instauration of the most appropriate treatment, i.e. local surgery or radiation treatment vs systemic treatment. In this view, one of the main advantages should be the avoidance of unnecessary local radiotherapy in those patients showing distant metastasis at 11C-choline PET/CT.

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The authors would like to thank Dr. Azahara Palomar from the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the Hospital Universitario Ciudad Real, Spain, for her contribution to the release of this work and Dr. Cristina Fonti for her contribution to the statistical analysis.

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Correspondence to Paolo Castellucci or Domenico Rubello.

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Castellucci, P., Fuccio, C., Rubello, D. et al. Is there a role for 11C-choline PET/CT in the early detection of metastatic disease in surgically treated prostate cancer patients with a mild PSA increase <1.5 ng/ml?. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging 38, 55–63 (2011).

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