Diagnosis and staging of head and neck cancer: a comparison of modern imaging modalities (positron emission tomography, computed tomography, color-coded duplex sonography) with panendoscopic and histopathologic findings

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2000 Dec;126(12):1457-61. doi: 10.1001/archotol.126.12.1457.


Objective: To compare the clinical value of positron emission tomography (PET) using fludeoxyglucose F 18, computed tomography (CT), color-coded duplex sonography (CCDS), and panendoscopy in the detection and staging of head and neck cancer.

Design: Prospective nonrandomized controlled study.

Setting: Medical school.

Patients: Convenience sample of 50 patients with suspected primary or recurrent head and neck cancer.

Intervention: Biopsy, tumor surgery.

Main outcome measures: Information of diagnostic procedures compared with histopathologic features.

Results: Both PET and panendoscopy had a sensitivity of 95% and 100% for detection of primary tumor or recurrent carcinomas, respectively. Specificity for PET and panendoscopy was 92% and 85% in primary tumors and 100% and 80% in recurrent carcinoma, respectively. Sensitivity of CCDS and CT was 74% and 68% in primary tumors and 67% and 63% in recurrent carcinomas, respectively. Specificity was 75% and 69% in primary tumors and 100% and 80% in recurrent neoplasms. When assessing neck nodes, all imaging procedures exhibited identical sensitivity (84%). Specificity was 90%, 96%, and 88% in PET, CT, and CCDS, respectively. In recurrent lymph node metastases, sensitivity was 100%, 67%, and 67% and specificity was 87%, 91%, and 87% for PET, CT, and CCDS, respectively.

Conclusions: Positron emission tomography was the most reliable imaging procedure in the detection of primary tumor and recurrent carcinomas localized in the head and neck region. Owing to its limited anatomical depiction, it cannot as yet replace other diagnostic procedures in preoperative planning but does contribute valuable complementary diagnostic information. Computed tomograpy may have difficulties in identifying recurrent carcinomas. For routine diagnosis of nodal spread in the neck, CCDS is recommended. Panendoscopy is a valuable diagnostic procedure that can provide key information in cases of superficial mucosal tumor involvement. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2000;126:1457-1461

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Endoscopy*
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recurrence
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color*