New imaging tool at Banner MD Anderson helps identify neuroendocrine tumors

GILBERT, Ariz. – Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert is among only a handful of sites in the United States to offer a new diagnostic imaging tool to identify neuroendocrine tumors. These rare tumors, which can be benign or malignant, historically have been difficult to diagnose. 

The imaging test uses a radioactive diagnostic agent called gallium Ga 68 dotatate to help detect and analyze certain neuroendocrine tumors. When used in diagnostic imaging, the agent binds strongly to the receptors of the tumor cells. This process better detects tumors not seen on many other standard imaging scans, according to Boris Naraev, MD, medical oncologist at Banner MD Anderson. 

“This type of disease sometimes has been difficult to detect through imaging scans such as MRIs and CT scans,” said Dr. Naraev. “This is a diagnostic tool which often helps pinpoint the exact location of the tumors, and gives doctors better information so they can determine the best possible treatment.” 

A study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology demonstrated that the imaging tool detected more than three times the number of lesions than another commonly used imaging system. As many as 33 percent of patients in the study experienced a change in therapeutic management as a result of additional lesions detected with the new imaging tool. For many years, this imaging tool was only available in Europe but it is now used in the Division of Diagnostic Imaging at Banner MD Anderson. 

Information gleaned from its use can also help doctors determine whether patients qualify for a clinical trial at Banner MD Anderson. A drug called Lutathera is now available at the facility through an expanded access program for qualifying patients with a rare tumor – neuroendocrine carcinoma of midgut origin (carcinoid of the digestive tract). This treatment offers possible hope for patients who otherwise would have few treatment options. 

“These are clear examples of our commitment to provide cancer patients with access to the most cutting-edge care as we fight to eliminate cancer,” said Susan Passalaqua, MD, diagnostic radiologist at Banner MD Anderson. 

Each year an estimated 8,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor that starts in the gastrointestinal tract, which includes the stomach, intestine, appendix, colon, and rectum, according to the American Cancer Society.

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, located on the Banner Gateway campus, delivers cancer care to patients in Arizona through the collaboration of Banner Health and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Banner MD Anderson offers focused disease-specific expertise in the medical, radiation and surgical management of the cancer patient; an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to patient care; access to clinical trials and new investigative therapies; state-of-the-art technology for the diagnosis, staging and treatment of all types of cancer; oncology expertise in supportive care services.