Evaluation of recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck with FDG positron emission tomography.
PURPOSE: This study compared the effectiveness of fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) with computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or both for the assessment of recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. The value of quantifying the standardized uptake values (SUV) to distinguish recurrent neoplasm from inflammatory lesions and normal structures was also evaluated. METHODS: Forty-three patients with head and neck cancer were examined with F-18 FDG PET at least 4 months after their last course of radiation therapy (mean, 11 months). The SUVs were measured in visually identified regions of abnormally increased activity and were compared with the values in normal mucosa, the base of the tongue, and the hard palate to determine if an optimal cutoff value exists for diagnosing recurrence of malignant lesions. The final diagnosis of recurrence was made based on biopsy or at least 6 months' clinical follow-up. RESULTS: FDG PET correctly detected recurrence in 20 of 22 patients who had 45 discrete lesions located in the field of the upper aerodigestive tract. Two false-negative and three false-positive results were identified. The accuracy of FDG PET was 88% (38 of 43 patients), compared with 66% (25 of 38 patients) for CT, MRI, or both. Although there was a significant difference of SUVs (P = 0.0036) between the recurrent lesions and normal structures, the optimal cutoff values were difficult to define. CONCLUSIONS: Visual analysis of FDG PET is significantly more accurate in the diagnosis of recurrent squamous cell cancer of the head and neck than are CT or MRI. However, single SUV quantification does not significantly enhance efficacy.