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Higher res PET/CT incorporates tumor edge estimates into head and neck cancer treatment planning

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | April 06, 2023
CT Molecular Imaging Rad Oncology X-Ray
A higher-resolution PET scanner accurately estimates tumor edges, allowing for better radiotherapy and surgery planning in head and neck cancers. (Photo courtesy of WVU Photo/Davidson Chan)
West Virginia University researchers are seeking approval to test a new PET/CT scanner exclusively designed to image head and neck cancers on 40 patients, saying the system's higher than normal resolution will improve treatment planning.

Head and neck cancers are typically challenging to treat because they are often “centimeters in diameter” by the time a patient is diagnosed, and because recurrence is as high as 43% and five-year survival is as low as 25%, says Dr. Raymond Raylman, vice chair of research for the department of radiology and a member of the WVU Cancer Institute.

Because of its higher resolution, the new scanner, which showed promising preclinical results in highly detailed images it produced of simulated head and neck cancers, better identifies sensitive areas to avoid during treatment, such as glands and muscles, and accurately estimates the edges of tumors.
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“The more accurately you can assess the size, shape and spread of the tumor, the more accurately — and, hopefully, effectively — you can plan either surgery or radiation therapy,” said Raylman in a statement.

He says the system will especially be helpful for assessing patients with HPV-associated cancer, a very common sexually transmitted disease diagnosed in approximately 444,000 Americans each year and one of the biggest risk factors for developing head and neck cancers, particularly among men.

HPV-associated cancers in the oropharynx are growing, with many cases spreading to the lymph nodes before they are large enough to be detected, says Tanya Fancy, chief of Head and Neck Surgery at WVU Medicine.

She says that the scanner can identify the source of the cancer more easily, enabling more focused treatment. "It would define tumor borders and tumor volume more precisely and show the presence of cancer in lymph nodes in the neck more accurately. Both aspects are crucial to identifying the stage of a patient’s cancer and planning for surgery."

Raylman and his colleagues designed a prototype in collaboration with the WVU School of Medicine, the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Lane Innovation Hub, and Xoran Technologies, a manufacturer of CT scanners.

The National Cancer Institute provided $1.9 million over five years toward the project.

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