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Keywords:

  • Distant metastasis;
  • survival;
  • head and neck cancer;
  • positron emission tomography scan;
  • Level of Evidence: 2b

Abstract

Objectives/Hypothesis:

To determine if the various imaging modalities for distant metastasis (DM) diagnosis alters life expectancy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

Study Design:

Retrospective.

Methods:

One hundred seventy patients (mean age, 59.1 years; male:female, 135:35) with HNSCC who developed DM were reviewed. The main outcome measures were the method of DM diagnosis and time from DM diagnosis to death while controlling for clinical parameters (age, gender, tobacco status, primary tumor site, initial TNM classification, number and site of DM, administration of palliative chemotherapy).

Results:

Tumor subsites were: 40 oral cavity, 75 oropharynx, 36 larynx, 10 hypopharynx, one nasopharynx, and eight unknown primary. Of the patients, 16.5% (28/170) had distant metastasis at presentation; the remaining 142 patients were diagnosed with DM at a median of 324 days from diagnosis. Although patients diagnosed with DM by positron-emission tomography (PET) scan were more likely to have multiple DM sites (P = .0001), there were no differences in life expectancy in patients who were diagnosed with or without PET scan (median, 185 vs. 165 days, P = .833). There were no differences in life expectancy based on age, gender, site of primary tumor, or number/site of DM. The use of palliative chemotherapy resulted in a significantly longer life expectancy (median, 285 vs. 70 days; P = .001).

Conclusions:

Although a PET scan is more likely to diagnose multiple DM sites, there was no difference in life expectancy based on imaging modality. Patients who are symptomatic from their distant metastasis have a worse life expectancy, and palliative chemotherapy was able to increase life expectancy, even in patients who were symptomatic from the distant metastasis.