Imaging of Tumor Hypoxia for Radiotherapy: Current Status and Future Directions

Authors Busk M, Overgaard J, Horsman MR
Source Semin Nucl Med. 2020 Nov;50(6):562-583. Publicationdate 17 Jun 2020

Tumor regions that are transiently or chronically undersupplied with oxygen (hypoxia) and nutrients, and enriched with acidic waste products, are common due to an abnormal and inefficient tumor vasculature, and a deviant highly glycolytic energy metabolism. There is compelling evidence that tumor hypoxia is strongly linked to poor prognosis since oxygen-deprived cells are highly resistant to therapy including radio- and chemotherapy, and survival of such cells is a primary cause of disease relapse. Despite a general improvement in cancer survival rates, hypoxia remains a formidable challenge. Recent progress in radiation delivery systems with improved spatial accuracy that allows dose escalation to hypoxic tumors or even tumor subvolumes, and the development of hypoxia-selective drugs, including bioreductive prodrugs, holds great promise for overcoming this obstacle. However, apart from one notable exception, translation of promising preclinical therapies to the clinic have largely been disappointing. A major obstacle in clinical trials on hypoxia-targeting strategies has been the lack of reliable information on tumor hypoxia, which is crucial for patient stratification into groups of those that are likely to benefit from intervention and those who are not. Further, in many newer trials on hypoxia-selective drugs the choice of cancer disease and combination therapy has not always been ideal, especially not for clinical proof of principle trials. Clearly, there is a pending need for clinical applicable methodologies that may allow us to quantify, map and monitor hypoxia. Molecular imaging may provide the information required for narrowing the gap between potential and actual patient benefit of hypoxia-targeting strategies. The grand majority of preclinical and clinical work has focused on the usefulness of PET-based assessment of hypoxia-selective tracers. Since hypoxia PET has profound inherent weaknesses, the use of other methodologies, including more indirect methods that quantifies blood flow or oxygenation-dependent flux changes through ATP-generating pathways (eg, anaerobic glycolysis) is being extensively studied. In this review, we briefly discuss established and emerging hypoxia-targeting strategies, followed by a more thorough evaluation of strengths and weaknesses of clinical applicable imaging methodologies that may guide timely treatment intensification to overcome hypoxia-driven resistance. Historically, most evidence for the linkage between hypoxia and poor outcome is based on work in the field of radiotherapy. Therefore, main emphasis in this review is on targeting and imaging of hypoxia for improved radiotherapy.