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The search for a primary malignancy in patients with a metastatic cervical lymph node is challenging yet ultimately of utmost clinical importance. This study evaluated the efficacy of positron emission tomography computed tomography in detecting the occult primary, within the context of a tertiary referral centre head and neck cancer multidisciplinary team tumour board meeting.
Thirty-two patients (23 men and 9 women; mean and median age, 61 years) with a metastatic cervical lymph node of unknown primary origin, after clinical examination and magnetic resonance imaging, underwent positron emission tomography computed tomography.
The primary tumour detection rate was 50 per cent (16/32). Positron emission tomography computed tomography had a sensitivity of 94 per cent (16/17) and a specificity of 67 per cent (10/15). Combining these results with those of 10 earlier studies of similar patients gave an overall detection rate of 37 per cent.
Positron emission tomography computed tomography has become an important imaging modality. To date, it has the highest primary tumour detection rate, for head and neck cancer patients presenting with cervical lymph node metastases from an unknown primary.
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