Among patients with head and neck cancer who are at a high risk for metastases, periodic computed tomography (CT) scans can be highly effective for detecting pulmonary metastases.

Head and neck cancers originate in the oral cavity (lip, mouth, tongue), salivary glands, paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, pharynx (upper back part of the throat), larynx (voice box), and lymph nodes in the upper part of the neck. Worldwide, head and neck cancer is diagnosed in approximately 640,000 people annually and is responsible for approximately 350,000 deaths each year.

Some patients with head and neck cancer are at a higher risk of developing cancer spread (metastasis). One of the common places of metastasis is to the lung, referred to as pulmonary metastasis. Researchers continue to evaluate ways in which to detect metastasis so that detection and treatment may occur in its earliest phases.

Researchers from Taiwan recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the effectiveness of chest CT scans in early detection of pulmonary metastases among patients with head and neck cancer. This trial included 192 patients over nearly 4 years, during which time CT scans of the chest were intermittently performed.

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Approximately one-third of patients had abnormal chest CT scans. Nearly 70% of patients with an abnormal scan ultimately demonstrated disease progression.

The researchers concluded that patients with head and neck cancer who are at a high risk of developing pulmonary metastases may benefit from intermittent chest CT scans for early detection of pulmonary metastases. Patients with head and neck cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of chest CT scans.

Reference: Hsu Y, Chu P, Liu J, et al. Role of Chest Computed Tomography in Head and Neck Cancer. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008;134:1050-1054.