Purpose: The goal of this study was to evaluate coregistered [18F] fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)-positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) for the detection of persistent disease after definitive radiation therapy in head and neck cancer.
Methods and materials: Posttreatment FDG-PET/CT was performed in 28 patients on average 8 weeks (range, 4 to 15.7 weeks) after completing definitive radiation therapy. FDG-PET/CT was visually analyzed for the entire patient group and at two time points (4-8 and >8 weeks) after treatment. The contrast-enhanced CT portion of PET/CT was separately analyzed blinded to the results of coregistered FDG-PET/CT and classified as negative or positive for residual locoregional disease. Pathologic findings and clinical follow-up served as the reference standard.
Results: Follow-up data were available for all 28 patients (median, 17.6 months). Regarding the detection of residual disease, the overall sensitivity and specificity of FDG-PET/CT was 76.9% and 93.3%, respectively, compared with 92.3% and 46.7% for contrast-enhanced CT. The accuracy of FDG-PET/CT was 85.7%, compared with 67.9% for CT alone. All false-negative (n = 3) and false-positive (n = 1) FDG-PET/CT results occurred between 4 and 8 weeks after treatment. At 8 weeks or later after treatment, the specificity of CT was 28%, compared with 100% for FDG-PET/CT.
Conclusions: The metabolic-anatomic information from coregistered FDG-PET/CT provided the most accurate assessment for treatment response when performed later than 8 weeks after the conclusion of radiation therapy. FDG-PET/CT excelled by a higher specificity and overall diagnostic performance than CT imaging alone. These results support a potential clinical role of FDG-PET/CT in the early assessment of therapy response after definitive radiation therapy.