These findings, based on new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, appear in the July issue of the medical journal The Laryngoscope.
The whole-body PET/CT also is highly accurate for detecting head and neck cancer recurrence, the researchers said.
"PET/CT is very helpful in determining where we should pinpoint our biopsies for recurrent disease," said Dr. Carol Shores, assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at UNC and the report's senior author. Shores is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"We can pick up cancer where we thought none existed. The new scans are so precise that in some cases cancer had been detected that probably would not have been through any other noninvasive imaging exam."
Since its development in 2000, PET/CT imaging has enabled collection of both anatomical and biological information during a single examination. The PET component picks up the metabolic signal of actively growing cancer cells in the body, and the CT provides a detailed picture of the internal anatomy that reveals the size and shape of abnormal cancerous growths.
"Alone, each test has its limitations, but when the results of the scans are integrated they provide the most complete information on cancer location and metabolism," said Shores.
In cancer detection, the PET/CT has helped detect a variety of tumors, including cancers of the breast, esophagus, cervix, lung, colon and ovaries, as well as melanoma and lymphoma.
"Until now, no published study has specifically evaluated clinical outcomes with PET/CT for head and neck tumors, including its accuracy, use and implications for patient care," said
Contact: Leslie H. Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine