BACKGROUND: Sorafenib is a multikinase inhibitor used to treat advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Recently, a preclinical trial has shown that response to sorafenib is associated with a metabolic shift towards aerobic glycolysis. To test this observation in humans, we decided to conduct a proof-of-concept trial investigating the role of metabolic shift detected on [18F]FDG PET/CT in predicting survival and tumor response in HCC patients treated with sorafenib.
METHODS: We prospectively enrolled advanced HCC patients candidate to sorafenib and undergoing [18F]FDG PET/CT at baseline, at 24 h, and at day 7 following treatment start. Response evaluation was obtained after 8 weeks according to Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (RECIST). All clinical variables and metabolic parameters (i.e., SUVmax; metabolic tumor volume, MTV; total lesion glycolysis, TLG; and their variations, Δ) were compared with those of treatment response and correlated to progression-free (PFS) and overall survival (OS).
RESULTS: For this proof-of-concept trial, between August 2016 and August 2018, 13 patients (10 male, 3 female, median age 69) were enrolled. Considering the entire cohort, we demonstrated a significant negative correlation between ΔSUVmax at 24 h and 1 week (rho = - 0.733, p = 0.016). The metabolic shift, as expected, demonstrated median SUVmax, MTV, and TLG after 1 week lower in patients with a stable disease than a progressive disease (p = 0.019). Metabolic parameters and ECOG performance status (PS) resulted significantly correlated to PFS and OS at univariate analysis. On multivariate analysis, only median MTV at 1 week resulted as an independent prognostic factor for PFS (p = 0.033).
CONCLUSIONS: As hypothesized, [18F]FDG PET/CT resulted in able to evaluate metabolic shift at 24 h and early treatment response already 1 week after treatment start. Moreover, metabolic parameters and ECOG PS resulted in predictive and prognostic factors to PFS and OS, with MTV at 1 week appearing as an independent predictive factor for PFS.