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Scan can tell if chemotherapy is effective after one round of treatment

Using a combined PET and CT scan may improve decisions on head and neck cancer treatment, researchers in England say.

By Stephen Feller
A combined PET and CT scan can accurately show the efficacy of chemotherapy on head and neck cancers after just one round of treatment, report researchers at the Institute for Cancer Research. Photo by sfam_photo/Shutterstock
A combined PET and CT scan can accurately show the efficacy of chemotherapy on head and neck cancers after just one round of treatment, report researchers at the Institute for Cancer Research. Photo by sfam_photo/Shutterstock

LONDON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Head and neck cancers are notoriously difficult to treat, but researchers say a new scanning technique could help determine whether chemotherapy is effective after just one round of treatment.

Combined PET and CT scans accurately measure a tumor's energy use and ability to convert glucose to energy, offering doctors a faster method of measuring treatment response for head and neck cancers, researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research report in a study published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

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Whether patients need a different chemotherapy, increase in radiotherapy or otherwise, researchers in the study were looking for ways of measuring cancer and cancer response to prevent patients from experiencing side effects unnecessarily or to alter treatment paths when they don't work.

"Head and neck cancers are some of the most difficult to treat, so it's vital that we find ways to tell whether the therapy we are giving our patients is working quickly," Kevin Harrington, joint head of the division of radiotherapy and imaging at the Institute of Cancer Research, said in a press release.

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For the study, researchers analyzed combined PET and CT scans, comparing them to MRI scans, for 20 cancer patients taken two weeks before their first cancer treatment and two weeks after each round of chemotherapy, as well as three months after completion of chemoradiotherapy.

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Classifying participants as either responders or non-responders, the researchers found that if a tumor's energy use score fell by more than 55 percent or its glucose score dropped by more than 60 percent, the patients were more likely to respond well to treatment.

"Our work suggests that high-tech PET/CT scans can spot patients whose treatment might not work very rapidly, after only one cycle of chemotherapy," Harrington said. "That gives patients and clinicians either the confidence to persist with treatment, or early warning that it isn't working so that it can be urgently switched for an alternative approach."

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