Revisiting the role of positron-emission tomography/computed tomography in determining the need for planned neck dissection following chemoradiation for advanced head and neck cancer

Christine G. Gourin, Brian J. Boyce, Hadyn T Williams, Anne V. Herdman, Paul A. Bilodeau, Teresa A. Coleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

35 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: Planned neck dissection following chemoradiation (CR) has been advocated in patients with head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) with advanced nodal disease and a clinical complete response to CR because of the potential for residual occult nodal disease. The utility of positron-emission tomography/computed tomography (PET-CT) in identifying occult nodal disease in this scenario is controversial. Methods: The medical records of all patients treated with CR for advanced HNSCC with N2 or N3 disease from December 2003 to June 2007 were reviewed. Patients with a complete clinical response were included if PET-CT performed 8 to 11 weeks after CR showed no distant disease and they underwent planned neck dissection. Results: Thirty-two patients met study criteria. PET-CT was positive for residual nodal disease in 20 patients (63%). Pathology revealed carcinoma in 10 patients (31%): six of 20 patients with positive PETCT scans (30%) and four of 12 patients with negative PET-CT scans (33%). The sensitivity and specificity of PET-CT was 60% and 36%. Regional recurrence developed in two patients (6%) who were not successfully salvaged. Conclusions: PET-CT performed 8 to 11 weeks after CR does not reliably predict the need for planned post-treatment neck dissection in patients with a complete clinical response following CR. Regional recurrence rates are comparable to those reported for patients observed with PET-CT, suggesting no advantage for planned neck dissection, and salvage rates were poor. These data suggest that delaying the timing of PET-CT, with surgery reserved for positive findings, is a reasonable alternative to planned neck dissection to avoid unnecessary surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2150-2155
Number of pages6
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2009



  • Head and neck neoplasms
  • Neck dissection
  • Nodal metastases
  • Positron-emission tomography/computed tomography
  • Squamous cell cancer
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology

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