Oncologists Often Misinterpret Posttreatment HNSCC Scan Details

Randy Dotinga

September 01, 2022

Patient outcomes could be threatened because of misinterpretation by oncologic surgeons of free-form posttreatment radiological reports in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), a new study finds.

"Clinician perception of patient response from the post-RT [radiation treament] PET/CT free-form report is unreliable and does not consistently reflect the radiologist's intended meaning, which was strongly associated with survival," researchers wrote in a study published Aug. 18 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. They found "minimal agreement between clinicians' consensus perspective on the patient's response status derived from free-form imaging reports and the criterion standard response category assigned by a nuclear medicine specialist after PET/CT image review."

According to radiation oncologist Ryan T. Hughes, MD, and colleagues at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., it's common for patients with HNSCC to get PET, CT, or PET/CT imaging following treatment in order to assess how patients responded. Accurate communication about the results is essential to determining next steps, they write.

However, they write, "to our knowledge there is no universally accepted standardized method for communicating results," such as whether there's been a complete or partial response. Discrepancies between a radiological posttreatment report and an oncologist's perception of the findings "may contribute to unnecessary patient care complexities, including elevated patient anxiety, unnecessary follow-up testing/procedures, and failure to recognize and adequately treat residual, recurrent, or progressive disease," the researchers write.

For the new study, the authors tracked 171 patients (26.3% women, median age 61 years, ethnicity not provided), mainly (87%) with stage III-IV disease. Most (89%) received concurrent chemotherapy, and 30% received radiotherapy following operations.

Four oncologists reviewed free-form radiologic reports and determined whether the patient had a complete, indeterminate or partial response, or progressive disease. "Next, the group conferred to assign a consensus clinician MDS [modified Deauville score] and associated response category to assess the percentage of agreement with the criterion standard nuclear medicine physician MDS response derived from PET/CT image review."

The researchers found that "interrater reliability of clinician-perceived post-RT PET/CT response was moderate [k = 0.680; 95% confidence interval, 0.638-0.721], and there was minimal reliability and low rate of agreement between clinician perception and radiologist-intended PET/CT response [63.7%; k = 0.365; 95% CI, 0.251-0.478)."

The clinicians were more likely to perceive patients as having an indeterminate response (28.1%), compared with the radiologists (9.3%). "There were 16 instances of significant discordance: 7 patients for whom the clinician perception MDS was 1 to 2 and nuclear medicine MDS 3 to 4, and 9 patients for whom the clinician perception MDS was 3 to 4 and nuclear medicine MDS 1 to 2."

Due to statistical limitations, the researchers were unable to link the MDS scores to prognoses. The researchers suggest it's time to further standardize the assessment of posttreatment responses to therapy. They add that "the decision to use a standardized interpretation and reporting system rather than free-form reporting is more important than the specific system selected."

As for next steps, the researchers report that "prospective studies of post-RT PET/CT standardized reporting among patients with HNSCC are warranted, and a prospective implementation study of this workflow is planned at our institution."

The study was funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and National Institutes of Health. The authors had no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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