Background: The objective of this study was to review and describe the usage of fluorine-labeled deoxyglucose (FDG) and positron emission tomography (PET) in the diagnosis and management of head and neck cancer.
Methods: Several prospective series,-including 159 newly diagnosed and previously untreated and 23 previously irradiated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma patients initially seen at the Wake Forest University Medical Center and evaluated by clinical examination, conventional computed tomography/ magnetic resonance imaging (CT/MRI) scans, PET scans, and histopathologic studies,-were reviewed and the findings summarized for comparison of the correct differentiation of primary and metastatic cancers and for postirradiation tumor clearance in a subsegment of those cases.
Results: Positron emission tomography scanning using a fluorine-labeled deoxyglucose (FDG) radiotracer proved as reliable as conventional scanning for primary and metastatic tumor identification. Compared with clinical examination, PET was better for identification of nodal metastatic tumors but poorer for small primary tumors. For previously irradiated patients treated at least 4 months before the test, PET scanning was clearly superior to clinical examination and conventional imaging in differentiating tumor recurrence from soft-tissue irradiation effects.
Conclusions: Fluorine-labeled deoxyglucose-PET scanning is comparable to conventional imaging of head and neck cancers in detecting primary and metastatic carcinoma. Lack of anatomic detail remains its major drawback. Currently, its greatest role is in the evaluation of the postradiotherapy patient.