Extracranial applications of diffusion-weighted (DW) magnetic resonance (MR) imaging are gaining increasing importance, including in head and neck radiology. The main indications for performing DW imaging in this relatively small but challenging region of the body are tissue characterization, nodal staging, therapy monitoring, and early detection of treatment failure by differentiating recurrence from posttherapeutic changes. Lower apparent diffusion coefficients (ADCs) have been reported in the head and neck region of adults and children for most malignant lesions, as compared with ADCs of benign lesions. For nodal staging, DW imaging has shown promise in helping detect lymph node metastases, even in small (subcentimeter) nodes with lower ADCs, as compared with normal or reactive nodes. Follow-up of early response to treatment is reflected in an ADC increase in the primary tumor and nodal metastases; whereas nonresponding lesions tend to reveal only a slight increase or even a decrease in ADC during follow-up. Optimization and standardization of DW imaging technical parameters, comparison of DW images with morphologic images, and increasing experience, however, are prerequisites for successful application of this challenging technique in the evaluation of various head and neck pathologic conditions.
© RSNA, 2012.