DOI: 10.1007/s00259-017-3873-3Pages: 613-621

Up-front PET/CT changes treatment intent in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

1. Odense University Hospital, Department of ORL - Head & Neck Surgery

2. University of Southern Denmark, Department of Clinical Research

3. Odense University Hospital, Department of Nuclear Medicine

4. Odense University Hospital, Department of Oncology

5. Odense University Hospital, Department of Plastic Surgery

6. Odense University Hospital, Department of Radiology

7. University of Southern Denmark, Centre of Health Economics Research

Correspondence to:
Max Rohde
Tel: (+45) 21 25 24 69




In patients with newly diagnosed head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), we wanted to examine the differences in overall treatment decisions, i.e. curative versus palliative treatment intent, reached by a multidisciplinary team conference (MDTC) based on 18F–fluoro-deoxy-glucose-positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) or chest X-ray + MRI of the head and neck (CXR/MRI).

Patients and methods

This was a prospective blinded cohort study based on paired data. Consecutive patients with histologically verified primary HNSCC were invited to participate. All included patients underwent CXR/MRI and PET/CT before diagnostic biopsy. An ordinary MDTC using all available imaging was conducted as per standard practice. After at least 3 months (to eliminate recall bias in the team), the first project MDTC was conducted, based on either CXR/MRI or PET/CT, and the tumor board drew conclusions regarding treatment. After an additional 3 months, a second project MDTC was conducted using the complementary imaging modality.


A total of 307 patients were included. Based on CXR/MRI, 303 patients (99%) were recommended for curative treatment and only four patients (1%) for palliative treatment. Based on PET/CT, the MDTC concluded that 278 (91%) patients were suitable for curative treatment and 29 (9%) patients for palliative treatment. The absolute difference of 8% was statistically significant (95% CI: 4.8%–11.5%, p < 0.001).


A PET/CT-based imaging strategy significantly changed the decisions regarding treatment intent made by a MDTC for patients diagnosed with HNSCC, when compared with the standard imaging strategy of CXR/MRI.

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  • Accepted: Nov 1, 2017
  • Online: Nov 10, 2017

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