PET-CT and the detection of the asymptomatic recurrence or second primary lesions in the treated head and neck cancer patient

Katherine A. Dunsky, Daniel J. Wehrmann, Medhat M. Osman, Brandon M. Thornberry, Mark A. Varvares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis The role of follow-up and the detection of recurrent or new primary disease in cancer management remains to be defined. Specifically, the effectiveness and impact on survival of imaging studies that detects disease before it is symptomatic or noted on exam is unknown. Study Design Retrospective chart review. Methods A retrospective review was performed on a series of head and neck cancer patients (n = 123), at a single institution from February 18, 2004 to July 9, 2007, who had undergone nonstaging 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography-computing tomography (FDG PET-CT) scans as an integral part of the patient's follow-up after definitive treatment. Each scan (n = 308) was evaluated by a board-certified nuclear medicine physician, and final scan readings from each patient's medical record were reviewed for this study. Results Of the 123 patients in the study, 24 (20%) were noted to have asymptomatic lesions (either recurrent or new primaries) indicated on PET/CT (8% of surveillance scans) at an average interval of 35.7 weeks posttreatment. Asymptomatic lesions were detected most frequently at distant sites, with 50% being thoracic, but also included were primary (9%), regional (9%), and other distant (32%) sites. At last follow-up of the 24 patients in whom an asymptomatic lesion was detected, 14 patients have died of disease; 10 patients remain alive, four with disease; and one patient had a subsequent recurrence treated and is currently disease-free. Conclusion PET-CT scanning is an effective tool for detecting asymptomatic disease in patients previously treated for head and neck cancer. Unfortunately, even with early detection of recurrent disease, the mortality rate remains high.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2161-2164
Number of pages4
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • PET/CT
  • recurrent head and neck cancer


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