Purpose: To determine the impact of (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) in radiotherapy target delineation and patient management for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) compared to computed tomography (CT) alone.
Materials and methods: Twenty-nine patients with HNSCC were included. CT and PET/CT obtained for treatment planning purposes were reviewed respectively by a neuroradiologist and a nuclear medicine specialist who were blinded to the findings from each other. The attending radiation oncologist together with the neuroradiologist initially defined all gross tumor volume of the primary (GTVp) and the suspicious lymph nodes (GTVn) on CT. Subsequently, the same radiation oncologist and the nuclear medicine specialist defined the GTVp and GTVn on (18)F-FDG-PET/CT. Upon disagreement between CT and (18)F-FDG-PET on the status of a particular lymph node, an ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration was performed. Volumes based on CT and (18)F-FDG-PET were compared with a paired Student's t-test.
Results: For the primary disease, four patients had previous diagnostic tonsillectomy and therefore, FDG uptake occurred in 25 patients. For these patients, GTVp contoured on (18)F-FDG-PET (GTVp-PET) were smaller than the GTVp contoured on CT (GTVp-CT) in 80% of the cases, leading to a statistically significant volume difference (p=0.001). Of the 60 lymph nodes suspicious on PET, 55 were also detected on CT. No volume change was observed (p=0.08). Ten biopsies were performed for lymph nodes that were discordant between modalities and all were of benign histology. Distant metastases were found in two patients and one had a newly diagnosed lung adenocarcinoma.
Conclusions: GTVp-CT was significantly larger when compared to GTVp-PET. No such change was observed for the lymph nodes. (18)F-FDG-PET modified treatment management in three patients, including two for which no curative radiotherapy was attempted. Larger multicenter studies are needed to ascertain whether combined (18)F-FDG-PET/CT in target delineation can influence the main clinical outcomes.
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