According to a recent study, combining PET/CT to monitor response to treatment in head and neck cancer patients appears more effective than MRI. Using PET/CT may better inform doctors whether treatment for head and neck cancer is working after just one cycle of chemotherapy.

The ability to identify a patients response to chemotherapy early is important because it gives clinicians time to consider reducing treatment to spare side-effects, or may identify ineffective treatment early.

PET/CT combines two imaging technologies—computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET)—into one machine. CT provides information about anatomy and structure, and PET provides information about the function of cells and tissues. When these technologies are combined to produce a single image, doctors are able both to identify abnormal activity within the body and to precisely pinpoint its location. PET/CT scans can be used to identify the extent of the cancer, plan treatment, and assess treatment response.

In this study, researchers evaluated 20 head and neck cancer patients as part of the INSIGHT trial based at The Royal Marsden. They assessed patients three months after completion of a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and determined them to be either responders or non-responders.

The study is the first in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma to compare PET/CT and MRI scans following each cycle of chemotherapy, and the researchers found that, unlike PET/CT, MRI scans were less well able to predict which patients were responding well to treatment.

According to the study author “the study suggests that high-tech PET/CT scans can spot patients whose treatment might not work very rapidly after only one cycle of chemotherapy. That gives patients and clinicians either the confidence to persist with treatment, or early warning that it isn’t working so that it can be urgently switched for an alternative approach.”

Reference: Wong K, Panek R, Welsh L, et al. The predictive value of early assessment after one cycle of induction chemotherapy with 18F-FDG-PET/CT and DW-MRI for response to radical chemoradiotherapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. The Journal of Nuclear Medicine. July 14, 2016, doi:10.2967/jnumed.116.174433



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