RATIONALE: Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are neoplasms that can arise from the neuroendocrine cells distributed widely throughout the body. Majority of NETs overexpress somatostatin receptors (SSTR) on their cell surface. This biologic characteristic is exploited by SSTR-based imaging such as In octreotide scintigraphy and Ga DOTATATE positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT), which are considered standard for initial evaluation of NETs. Although highly sensitive and specific, recent reports demonstrate a concerning incidence of "false-positive" physiologic uptake of these tracers in the pancreatic head - a common site of neuroendocrine tumor (NET) involvement. We present false positive uptake on Ga DOTATATE PET/CT along with false positive CT findings. Role of other imaging modalities is discussed. PATIENT CONCERNS: A 78-year-old woman presented with a year-long history of diarrhea. DIAGNOSIS: Serum vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) levels were slightly elevated at 134.2 pg/mL (normal <75 pg/mL). CT showed a mildly enhancing 2.5 cm × 1.8 cm × 2.8 cm area in the pancreatic uncinate process which corresponded to focal uptake with Ga DOTATATE PET/CT. A presumptive diagnosis of pancreatic NET (vipoma) was made, and the patient was scheduled to undergo Whipple's surgery. INTERVENTIONS: She sought a second opinion and a subsequent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed no lesion and the patient's surgery was deferred. Thereafter, her VIP levels spontaneously normalized. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with fine needle aspiration cytology of the uncinate process showed normal pancreatic acini with no evidence of NET. OUTCOMES: Patient is currently pursuing workup for alternative etiologies for chronic diarrhea. LESSONS: Conspicuous physiological uptake has been reported in the pancreatic head on 16% to 70% of Ga DOTATATE or Ga DOTANOC PET/CT scans, and 26% of the In octreotide scintigraphy scans. Image-based quantitative attempts to distinguish physiologic from pathologic uptake using SUVmax have rendered mixed results. When evaluating SSTR-based imaging uptake in the pancreatic head, patients can benefit from a higher index of suspicion of false positive uptake. Such cases require additional confirmation by MRI or EUS. Interestingly, the patient described also had mild contrast enhancement on CT, but without an MRI correlate. Because of potential morbidity and mortality related to false positive uptake, a systematic review with evidence-based recommendations for imaging may benefit patient care.
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