Immunologic response to anti–programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) therapy can occur rapidly with T-cell responses detectable in as little as one week. Given that activated immune cells are FDG avid, we hypothesized that an early FDG PET/CT obtained approximately 1 week after starting pembrolizumab could be used to visualize a metabolic flare (MF), with increased tumor FDG activity due to infiltration by activated immune cells, or a metabolic response (MR), due to tumor cell death, that would predict response.

Patients and Methods:

Nineteen patients with advanced melanoma scheduled to receive pembrolizumab were prospectively enrolled. FDG PET/CT imaging was performed at baseline and approximately 1 week after starting treatment. FDG PET/CT scans were evaluated for changes in maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax) and thresholds were identified by ROC analysis; MF was defined as >70% increase in tumor SUVmax, and MR as >30% decrease in tumor SUVmax.


An MF or MR was identified in 6 of 11 (55%) responders and 0 of 8 (0%) nonresponders, with an objective response rate (ORR) of 100% in the MF-MR group and an ORR of 38% in the stable metabolism (SM) group. An MF or MR was associated with T-cell reinvigoration in the peripheral blood and immune infiltration in the tumor. Overall survival at 3 years was 83% in the MF-MR group and 62% in the SM group. Median progression-free survival (PFS) was >38 months (median not reached) in the MF-MR group and 2.8 months (95% confidence interval, 0.3–5.2) in the SM group (P = 0.017).


Early FDG PET/CT can identify metabolic changes in melanoma metastases that are potentially predictive of response to pembrolizumab and significantly correlated with PFS.

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