Diffusion-weighted imaging in head and neck cancers

Future Oncol. 2009 Sep;5(7):959-75. doi: 10.2217/fon.09.77.


This article reviews the utility of diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) in the diagnosis, prognosis and monitoring of treatment response in tumors arising in the head and neck region. The apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) value, determined from DWI, can help in cancer staging and detection of subcentimeter nodal metastasis. The ADC value also discriminates carcinomas from lymphomas, benign lesions from malignant tumors and tumor necrosis from abscesses. Low pretreatment ADC values typically predict a favorable response to chemoradiation therapy. These promising reports indicate the potential of DWI as a potential biomarker for diagnosis and monitoring of treatment response in head and neck cancers. In view of the overlapping ADC values between different salivary gland tumors, care should be taken when interpreting these results and other imaging parameters should be considered for a better diagnosis. Susceptibility and motion-induced artifacts may sometimes degrade DWI image quality; however, novel techniques are being developed to overcome these drawbacks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Humans