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Original Article
April 2001

Occult Primary Tumors of the Head and Neck: Accuracy of Thallium 201 Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography and Computed Tomography and/or Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Head and Neck Oncology (Drs van Veen, Balm, Hilgers, and Tan), Nuclear Medicine (Drs Valdés Olmos and Hoefnagel), and Radiology (Dr Pameijer), The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2001;127(4):406-411. doi:10.1001/archotol.127.4.406

Objective  To determine the accuracy of thallium 201 single-photon emission computed tomography (thallium SPECT) and computed tomography and/or magnetic resonance imaging (CT/MRI) in the detection of occult primary tumors of the head and neck.

Design  Study of diagnostic tests.

Setting  National Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Patients and Methods  Thirty-two patients with a neck node metastasis of an epithelial tumor and negative findings by mirror examination at initial presentation were included in the study. Twenty-nine patients underwent thallium SPECT and CT/MRI before examination under general anesthesia (EUA). In 3 patients only thallium SPECT was performed before EUA. Histological confirmation of an occult primary tumor during EUA was used as the gold standard. Negative radiodiagnostic and nuclear findings in the upper aerodigestive tract in the presence of a primary carcinoma other than of the head and neck were interpreted as true-negative findings.

Results  For thallium SPECT the following results were recorded: sensitivity, 67%; specificity, 69%; accuracy, 69%; positive predictive value, 33%; and negative predictive value, 90%. In 1 patient, thallium whole body scan indicated a primary carcinoma beyond the mucosal lining of the upper aerodigestive tract. The CT/MRI results were as follows: sensitivity, 71%; specificity, 73%; accuracy, 72%; positive predictive value, 45%; and negative predictive value, 89%.

Conclusions  Thallium SPECT and CT/MRI showed comparable results for detection of occult primary tumors of the head and neck. A potential advantage of thallium SPECT is that it allows total body screening.