New imaging scans track down persistent cancer cells

March 23, 2016

Head and neck cancer patients may no longer have to undergo invasive post-treatment surgery to remove remaining cancer cells, as research shows that innovative scanning-led surveillance can help identify the need for, and guidance of, neck dissection.

The study from the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, used advanced imaging to identify still present after treatment of head and neck cancer with primary chemoradiotherapy.

Previous guidelines meant that all head and neck cancer have to undergo neck dissection surgery, a three-hour operation with considerable morbidity and up to a one week hospital stay, because there was no reliable way to identify which patients still had remaining cancer cells.

The use of positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) scans for image-guided surveillance meant that routine post-treatment operations were no longer necessary, and can now be better targeted to the right areas in those 20% of patients who still have persistent cancer.

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