Head & Neck Cancer Follow-up

Aggressive cancer treatments may affect normal cells as well as cancer cells, giving patients additional symptoms in the follow-up period. This makes it especially important to know if these aggressive treatments are being effective. Early in the course of treatment PET/CT imaging can be used to help the physician determine if the tumor glucose metabolism is reduced and if the treatment is working.

After a patient's treatment the physician will closely monitor the patient's progress and look for any signs that the cancer may have returned. Early detection of any recurrent disease after treatment is important because salvage therapy can be quite successful for managing residual or recurrent tumor if it is identified at an early stage.

The anatomy of the head and neck area is complex, especially after surgery, and conventional anatomic imaging procedures are much less useful because of the distortion of anatomy caused by treatment. An abnormality may be present after treatment, which would be visible on a CT scan, but anatomic imaging cannot determine if the tumor has been successfully treated or if residual cancer remains within the scar tissue.

PET/CT imaging has a particularly important role, to help detect suspected residual or recurrent disease.