Purpose: Distinguishing persistent or recurrent tumor from postradiation edema, or soft tissue/cartilage necrosis in patients treated for carcinoma of the larynx can be difficult. Because recurrent tumor is often submucosal, multiple deep biopsies may be necessary before a diagnosis can be established. Positron emission tomography with 18F-2fluoro-2deoxyglucose (FDG) was studied for its ability to aid in this problem.
Methods and materials: Positron emission tomography (18FDG) scans were performed on 11 patients who were suspected of having persistent or recurrent tumor after radiation treatment for carcinoma of the larynx. Patients underwent thorough history and physical examinations, scans with computerized tomography, and pathologic evaluation when indicated. Standard uptake values were used to quantitate the FDG uptake in the larynx.
Results: The time between completion of radiation treatment and positron emission tomography examination ranged from 2 to 26 months with a median of 6 months. Ten patients underwent computed tomography (CT) of the larynx, which revealed edema of the larynx (six patients), glottic mass (four patients), and cervical nodes (one patient). Positron emission tomography scans revealed increased FDG uptake in the larynx in five patients and laryngectomy confirmed the presence of carcinoma in these patients. Five patients had positron emission tomography results consistent with normal tissue changes in the larynx, and one patient had increased FDG uptake in neck nodes. This patient underwent laryngectomy, and no cancer was found in the primary site, but nodes were pathologically positive. One patient had slightly elevated FDG uptake and negative biopsy results. The remaining patients have been followed for 11 to 14 months since their positron emission studies and their examinations have remained stable. In patients without tumor, average standard uptake values of the larynx ranged from 2.4 to 4.7, and in patients with tumor, the range was 4.9 to 10.7.
Conclusion: Positron emission tomography with labeled FDG appears to be useful in distinguishing benign from malignant changes in the larynx after radiation treatment. This noninvasive technique may be preferable to biopsy, which could traumatize radiation-damaged tissues and precipitate necrosis.