Background: Although surgery and radiation are effective treatments of regional lymphatics for classification N0 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients, both have morbidities that could be avoided in approximately 70% of patients without lymph node disease with better diagnostic information. 18-F fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) has shown promise in detecting subclinical lymph node disease, but its cost and availability have limited its use. Here, we sought to determine whether the use of FDG-PET was cost-effective as part of a treatment strategy for classification N0 HNSCC patients.
Methods: The cost-effectiveness of proceeding from classification of N0 by computed tomography to a PET scan was estimated using standard methods of economic evaluation. Costs were for a large, Midwestern university medical center. Probabilities were computed from a review of the literature. Utilities were obtained by a time-tradeoff method, and life expectancy was estimated using the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database. Outcomes measures were cost per year of life saved and cost per quality-adjusted life-year.
Results: Modified radical neck dissection was associated with the lowest morbidity (utility [u] = 0.93), and radical neck dissection plus radiation was associated with the highest (u = 0.68). Life expectancy was estimated to be 5.9 and 11.5 years for patients with and without lymph node disease, respectively. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for the PET strategy was $8718 per year of life saved, or $2505 per quality-adjusted life-year.
Conclusions: A diagnostic and treatment strategy that proceeds from classification of N0 to a PET scan is cost-effective. Prospective studies that evaluate this strategy are important to assure that these simulation results are realized in clinical practice.
Copyright 2001 American Cancer Society.