BACKGROUNDMetastatic renal cell carcinoma has a poor prognosis and an intrinsic resistance to standard treatment. Sunitinib is an oral receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor that has been used as a first-line targeted therapy in metastatic renal cell carcinoma. While computed tomography (CT) is currently the gold standard for response assessment in oncological trials, numerous studies have shown that positron emission tomography (PET) imaging can provide information predictive of tumor response to treatment earlier than the typical interval for standard of care follow-up CT imaging. In this exploratory study we sought to characterize early tumor response in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma treated with continuous daily 37.5 mg sunitinib therapy.METHODSTwenty patients underwent dynamic acquisition positron emission tomography (PET) imaging using (18) F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) and (18) F-fluorothymidine (FLT) at baseline and early in treatment (after 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks) with 37.5 mg continuous daily dosing of sunitinib. Semi-quantitative analyses were performed to characterize the tumor metabolic (FDG) and proliferative (FLT) responses to treatment.RESULTSProliferative responses were observed in 9/19 patients and occurred in 2 patients at one week (the earliest interval evaluated) after the initiation of therapy. A metabolic response was observed in 5/19 patients, however this was not observed until after two weeks of therapy were completed. Metabolic progression was observed in 2/19 patients and proliferative progression was observed in 1/19 patients. Baseline FDG-PET tumor maximum standardized uptake values correlated inversely with overall survival (p = 0.0036). Conversely, baseline (18) F-fluorothymidine PET imaging did not have prognostic value (p = 0.56) but showed a greater early response rate at 1-2 weeks after initiating therapy.CONCLUSIONSWhile preliminary in nature, these results show an immediate and sustained proliferative response followed by a delayed metabolic response beginning after two weeks in metastatic renal cell carcinoma treated with a continuous daily dose of 37.5 mg sunitinib. The results provide evidence of tumor response to lower-dose sunitinib while also supporting the inclusion of PET imaging as a tool for early assessment in oncological clinical trials.TRIAL REGISTRATIONID: NCT00694096.