For citation purposes: Betz CS, Volgger V, Silverman SM, Rubinstein M, Kraft M, Arens C, Wong BJF. Clinical optical coherence tomography in head and neck oncology: overview and outlook. Head Neck Oncol. 2013 Mar 06;5(3):35.

Critical review


Clinical optical coherence tomography in head and neck oncology: overview and outlook

CS Betz,, V Volgger, SM Silverman, M Rubinstein, M Kraft, C Arens, BJF Wong

Authors affiliations

(1) Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Klinikum der Universität München, Munich, Germany

(2) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

(3) Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University of California–Irvine Medical Centre, Irvine, California, USA

(4) Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Kantonsspital Baselland, Liestal, Switzerland

(5) Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Universitäts Klinikum Magdeburg, Magdeburg, Germany

* Corresponding author Email:



Optical coherence tomography is a high-resolution and minimally invasive optical imaging method, which provides in vivo cross-sectional images of living tissue in real-time. Our intention is to present a contemporary and comprehensive review on the role of optical coherence tomography in head and neck oncology.

Recent findings

Promising results have been published in small, single-centre studies applying optical coherence tomography in clinical settings for the diagnostic workup of superficial pathologies of the upper aerodigestive tract, showing that it can be a helpful adjunct to standard white light endoscopy. Using optical coherence tomography, microanatomical structures of healthy and diseased mucosa can easily be identified, allowing for a differentiation between benign, premalignant and early malignant lesions with high sensitivity and specificity. Also, it may be helpful in the evaluation of neoplastic thyroid disease and in the preclinical diagnosis of (chemo) radiation therapy-related mucositis.


Optical coherence tomography enables in vivo, real-time visualisation and diagnosis of healthy and diseased mucosa of the upper aerodigestive tract, and might be useful for other indications. Larger, multi-centre trials are needed to validate the current findings and further define the method’s clinical role. With the expected technical advances in acquisition speed and resolution, as well as a wider public acceptance of the method, optical coherence tomography seems to have a bright future in head and neck oncology.

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