Preferred treatment strategies for advanced-stage squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck have shifted from surgery to organ-preservation approaches such as radiotherapy, which can be combined with chemotherapy or giving of biologically modifying molecules. Preclinical and clinical researchers aim to customise these treatments on the basis of biological tumour characteristics, including tumour cell proliferation, hypoxia, and apoptosis--important resistance mechanisms for cytotoxic antitumour therapy. Monitoring of these biologically relevant variables before and early during treatment could improve patient selection for specific treatment strategies and guide adaptation of treatment at an early stage. PET provides a non-invasive molecular imaging method with the potential ability to undertake repetitive non-invasive quantification of relevant tumour characteristics. We discuss the role of PET scanning and available radiopharmaceutical tracers for treatment selection, early response monitoring, and treatment adaptation in head and neck cancer.
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