However, some patients do have a recurrence at the original site and even more patients develop new tumors in other parts of the body called “distant metastases”. The risk of either local recurrences or distant metastases is very real for ACC patients, even after many years without any evident disease, and therefore it requires a regimen of lifelong monitoring.
Typically, a combination of CT and MRI scans are used to check for and track any residual disease or potential recurrences. CT scans are particularly effective at identifying tumors in the lungs and harder tissues, while MRIs are most helpful for soft tissues and the head and neck region. In the months following a patient’s initial diagnosis or subsequent treatments, these imaging studies may be ordered by the patient’s physicians every 3 months or so. Patients with evident disease after treatment may have imaging studies every 3-6 months, depending upon the particular circumstances. For patients without any evident disease for multiple years, the scans may be spread out to every 6-12 months.
Younger patients without evident disease may wish to minimize their overall radiation exposure from CT scans by using low-dose CT machines. PET scans often do not pick up slow-growing ACC tumors, but may be instructive for fast-growing tumors.
Additional information on each of these imaging systems as they relate to cancer patients may be found at RadiologyInfo.org. Of particular interest to ACC patients are the sections on MRI of the Head and CT of the Chest.
Whatever your personal ACC status and your ultimate treatment approach, once treatment is complete, you will want to discuss a Monitoring Approach with your doctor. Different doctors follow different standards for monitoring. The monitoring framework below describes a common experience for ACC patients. Each case is different and should be determined with your medical team.
|No Evident Disease||Initial 2 to 3 month cycles of head and neck MRIs and CTs of the chest and abdomen. You may shift to scans every 6 to 12 months after 1 to 2 years of clear tests with no evident disease (NED).|
|Evident Disease||Imaging every 2 to 6 months to monitor active disease. MRI and CT depending on type of tissue. PET/CT or PET/MRI may be used at this stage. PET usually is recommended only for ACC that is known to be growing. A negative PET scan does not indicate ACC is absent.|