Surveillance radiologic imaging after treatment of oropharyngeal cancer: A review

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18 Scopus citations


The increasing proportion of human papilloma virus-related oropharynx cancers has led to improved success in the treatment of this disease. However, the current low recurrence rate after treatment of oropharyngeal cancer highlights the continued need for, as well as the challenges of, designing an effective follow-up surveillance program. There are frequently multiple modalities used in the treatment of oropharyngeal cancer, resulting in short- and long-term tissue changes to the head and neck that challenge clinical distinction of recurrence versus treatment-related changes. The oropharynx subsite is characterized by complex anatomy not always accessible to physical exam, making radiologic imaging a potentially useful supplement for effective follow-up assessment. In this manuscript, the literature regarding the type of radiologic imaging modality and the frequency of obtaining imaging studies in the surveillance follow-up after treatment of oropharyngeal cancer is reviewed. While ultrasound and MRI have useful characteristics that deserve further study, PET/CT appears to have the best sensitivity and specificity for imaging surveillance follow-up of head and neck cancers including oropharyngeal cancer. A negative PET/CT is particularly useful as a predictor of prognosis and can guide the clinician as to when to stop obtaining additional imaging studies in the absence of clinical signs of recurrence. However, there is scant evidence that imaging surveillance can improve survival outcomes. Suggestions to guide future imaging surveillance research studies are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number94
JournalWorld Journal of Surgical Oncology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 7 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Head and neck cancer
  • MRI
  • Oropharynx cancer
  • PET/CT
  • Radiologic imaging
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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