Doctors may be able to use pretreatment PET imaging to better fight aggressive cancers, according to a study presented at the 2010 Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium in Chandler, Arizona.

Researchers conducted a study to determine the prognostic significance of PET measurements obtained prior to treatment for patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma treated with radiation therapy.

After reviewing data on 177 patients who had PET imaging before undergoing radiation therapy for various types of head and neck cancer, researchers found that pretreatment PET imaging helped predict survival. Patients with lower values measured from PET imaging had a 3-year survival of 82.1% compared with 63.4% in patients with higher values.

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“The standardized uptake value (SUV) in lymph nodes may serve as an imaging biomarker for selecting patients for more aggressive systemic chemotherapy,” explained Min Yao, MD, PhD, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “Since we now know that SUV of the lymph nodes is associated with distant metastasis, those patients with high SUV in lymph nodes may need more aggressive systemic chemotherapy.”

Researchers further reported that in a multivariate analysis, the pretreatment PET value in the primary tumor was significantly associated with disease-specific survival and was nearly statistically significant for overall survival.