Routine post-treatment imaging of head and neck cancer patients may not be necessary, UCI-led study finds
Scans linked with false positives instead of improved outcomes
December 07, 2023
Orange, Calif. — A University of California, Irvine-led study has found that routine imaging of patients in remission from head and neck cancers is not as beneficial as previously thought.
UCI Health radiation oncologist Dr. Allen M. Chen and his co-authors reviewed the records of 501 patients who had radiation therapy at UCI Health between 2014 and 2022. Of those, they focused on 340 patients who had a negative scan indicating resolution of disease after completion of initial treatment. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.
The authors found no difference in the survival rate between those who were subsequently imaged regularly and those who were managed expectantly by taking a history and performing physical exams.
Although imaging is valuable when there is suspicion of an issue, the authors recommend discouraging its use in patients who have no symptoms.
Routine imaging may produce a cascade effect, the authors write, “potentially leading to unnecessary procedures (including ironically, in some cases, additional imaging surveillance), increased costs and undue patient anxiety for a finding that is ultimately benign.”
Chen is a board-certified UCI Health radiation oncologist who specializes in the management of head and neck cancers. He serves as chair of the UCI School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology. Regarded among the leading international authorities on optimizing cure rates and quality of life for head and neck cancer patients, Chen has published more than 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals.
He also has conducted numerous clinical trials for head and neck cancers including one of the first ever published on the utility of de-escalation for those related to human papillomavirus. He has served on leadership committees for the National Cancer Institute, the Radiological Society of North America, the American Board of Radiology, and is a fellow of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.
About UCI Health
UCI Health is the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine, and the only academic health system in Orange County. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center in Orange, Calif. The 459-bed, acute care hospital, listed among America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report for 23 consecutive years, provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center, gold level 1 geriatric emergency department and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.