• Head and neck;
  • cancer;
  • squamous cell carcinoma;
  • positron-emission tomography/computed tomography;
  • surveillance;
  • Level of Evidence: 4



To estimate the distribution of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) recurrence after definitive chemoradiation therapy (CRT) among patients who underwent 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron-emission tomography and computed tomography (PET/CT) surveillance.

Study Design:

Retrospective review.


HNSCC patients who underwent definitive CRT from 2001 to 2008 were evaluated for recurrence with serial PET/CT. Patients were excluded if they were previously treated for recurrent disease, were treated with surgery as the primary therapeutic modality, or had inadequate clinical follow-up. Recurrence was defined by histopathologic evidence of tumor.


Three hundred eighty-eight patients were studied. Patients in whom recurrence was not detected were followed clinically and radiographically for a median of 27 months. Tumor recurrence was detected in 110 patients. For 37 patients, recurrence was heralded by clinical signs. Among the 73 asymptomatic patients who had a confirmed recurrence, disease was detected by PET/CT between 2 and 43 months, median of 6 months. Forty-five percent of observed asymptomatic recurrences were detected during the first 6 months of surveillance (95% confidence interval [CI], 34%-57%), 79% within the first 12 months (95% CI, 68%-88%), 95% within the first 24 months (95% CI, 87%-98%), and 100% within the first 48 months (95% CI, 95%-100%).


Among HNSCC patients followed with PET/CT surveillance, 95% of observed asymptomatic recurrences were detected within 24 months after completing CRT. For patients without clinical signs of recurrence, routine PET/CT surveillance beyond the first 24 months may be of limited value and may not be cost effective. Laryngoscope, 2012