Detecting the exact location and extent of prostate cancer that has returned and metastasized in patients after initial treatment is now more likely, following the recent approval of a new positron emission tomography (PET) scan tracer that accurately targets prostate cancer cells. Loyola Medicine announced it is using the new tracer, and is the first center in the Midwest to offer PET/CT scans to patients with prostate cancer.
“We are delighted that we can now offer PET/CT scans to prostate cancer patients in order to improve the quality of their care,” Robert Wagner, MD, medical director of nuclear medicine at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said in a press release.
Patients diagnosed with prostate cancer are initially treated with either surgery, cryotherapy, or radiation. But the cancer can reappear in some patients, detected through an increase in prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels. But elevated PSA levels only imply the likelihood of recurrent cancer, and give no hint as to its spread.
“By knowing where the cancer has gone, we can provide more accurate, precise and selective treatment,” said Bital Savir-Baruch, MD, a Loyola nuclear physician.
PET/CT scans are usually very accurate in detecting cancer cells, being able to detect cancer earlier than other imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They rely on a tracer that selectively targets the cancer cells and emits radiation that is detected by the PET/CT scanner, and have been shown to work well in colon, lung, breast, and other cancers.
But — until May 27, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new PET scan tracer for prostate cancer, called Axumin (fluciclovine F-18) — they could not be used with these patients.
Axumin is a synthetic amino acid that is attached to a radioactive agent, fluorine-18. After being injected into the patient, Axumin is taken up exclusively by prostate cancer cells and releases small amounts of energy in the form of gamma rays. This energy is detected by the PET/CT scan, and a computer generates a detailed image that allows the clinicians to see the cancer.
Prostate cancer patients with elevated PSA levels are offered the scan at Loyola, and are scanned from their thighs to their eyes.