For the estimated 50,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year, surgery is a likely part of the treatment process. A new study is shedding light on a way to help some patients avoid this extra, and often dangerous, step in the treatment process.
When head and neck cancers are diagnosed, patients typically undergo non-surgical treatment first. Chemotherapy and/or radiation are used to shrink and potentially kill off cancer cells first. Once the rounds of treatment are completed, surgery takes place to ensure that all cancer cells have been removed. If they have, they are taken out during the procedure. A new study, however, has found that PET/CT scans can effectively remove the need for surgery in those who responded well to advance treatment.
The study in question involved some 500 patients with head and neck cancers. Of those involved in the study, PET/CT scans showed that the imaging process was highly successful in determining which patents truly needed surgery and which ones did not have persistent cancer. Roughly 20 percent of the patients required surgery. The other 80 percent did not. Researchers found the survival rates among those who went straight in for surgery and those who underwent scans first was roughly the same.
Surgical follow ups on head and neck cancer treatment can be rather risky – especially if they are not truly required. Complications can include disfigurement and nerve damage, among others. The procedure also requires about a week in the hospital during the recovery process.
By providing a way to see inside the body, PET/CT scans may spare head and neck cancer patients from unnecessary surgical procedures. How soon the findings will result in a possible change in protocol remains unclear. In the meantime, patients diagnosed with any form of cancer are urged to discuss all treatment options with their healthcare providers. Patients should also understand the potential risks and benefits of any recommended treatment.