Researchers from the University of Birmingham and University of Warwick have found that the positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) reduces the need of surgery to check whether cancer treatments have worked. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, states this technique uses a radioactive dye picked up by cancer cells, preventing surgical complications of head and neck cancer patients.

“Cancerous cells hide among the dead cells and with PET-CT you can call them out and find out whether they’re alive or not,” says Hisham Mehanna, a professor from the University of Birmingham.”We can now use this new technology to save patients having a debilitating operation and identify those that need the operation rather than give it to everybody.”

Usually, physicians check the head and neck tumour growth after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This operation takes three hours and requires a week of recovery for a patient.


Radiologist preparing a patient. Photo from

However, the research team found that the scanning and surgery methods’ survival rates actually stayed the same. Nevertheless, the PET-CT is still a better option because it saves recovery time, money and prevents disfigurement due to nerve damage that the operation may cause.

The researchers studied 564 patients. Eighty percent of them did not to undergo the surgery after the researchers scanned them. In fact, only one in five of the participants required the procedure.

Moreover, the team believes that this method could help people all over the world, especially those who cannot afford to pay the current approach which costs around £1,492 or AU$2,799 per patient.

“This exciting trial has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of people with head and neck cancer, meaning that they may not have to undergo an extremely stressful medical procedure,” adds Life Sciences Minister George Freeman.

“This is a really important study and if long-term follow-up confirms these results, this imaging technique could mean kinder treatments for patients with head and neck cancer,” concludes Cancer Research UK’s Arnie Purushotham. “There could also be opportunities to expand this approach to other types of cancer and also potentially saving money for the NHS.”