Primary staging of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer: CT, MR imaging and dual-energy CT

Eur J Radiol. 2014 Jan;83(1):e23-35. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2013.10.022. Epub 2013 Oct 27.


Laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer, in particular T4a disease associated with cartilage invasion and extralaryngeal spread, needs to be evaluated accurately because treatment can impact heavily on a patient's quality of life. Reliable imaging tools are therefore indispensible. CT offers high spatial and temporal resolution and remains the preferred imaging modality. Although cartilage invasion can be diagnosed with acceptable accuracy by applying defined criteria for combinations of erosion, lysis and transmural extralaryngeal spread, iodine-enhanced tumors and non-ossified cartilage are sometimes difficult to distinguish. MR offers high contrast resolution for images without motion artifacts, although inflammatory changes in cartilage sometimes resemble cartilage invasion. With dual-energy CT, combined iodine overlay images and weighted average images can be used for evaluation of cartilage invasion, since iodine enhancement is evident in tumor tissue but not in cartilage. Extralaryngeal spread can be evaluated from CT, MR or dual-energy CT images and the routes of tumor spread into the extralaryngeal soft tissue must be considered; (1) via the thyrohyoid membrane along the superior laryngeal neurovascular bundle, (2) via the inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle, and (3) via the cricothyroid membrane. Radiologists need to understand the advantages and limitations of each imaging modality for staging of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancer.

Keywords: Computed tomography; Dual-energy CT; Hypopharyngeal cancer; Laryngeal cancer; Magnetic resonance imaging; Staging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypopharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Radiography, Dual-Energy Scanned Projection / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*