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Prospective, blinded trial of whole-body magnetic resonance imaging versus computed tomography positron emission tomography in staging primary and recurrent cancer of the head and neck.OBJECTIVES: To compare the use of computed tomography - positron emission tomography and whole-body magnetic resonance imaging for the staging of head and neck cancer. PATIENTS AND METHODS: From January to July 2009, 15 consecutive head and neck cancer patients (11 men and four women; mean age 59 years; age range 19 to 81 years) underwent computed tomography - positron emission tomography and whole-body magnetic resonance imaging for pre-therapeutic evaluation. All scans were staged, as per the American Joint Committee on Cancer tumour-node-metastasis classification, by two blinded consultant radiologists, in two sittings. Diagnoses were confirmed by histopathological examination of endoscopic biopsies, and in some cases whole surgical specimens. RESULTS: Tumour staging showed a 74 per cent concordance, node staging an 80 per cent concordance and metastasis staging a 100 per cent concordance, comparing the two imaging modalities. CONCLUSION: This study found radiological staging discordance between the two imaging modalities. Whole-body magnetic resonance imaging is an emerging staging modality with superior visualisation of metastatic disease, which does not require exposure to ionising radiation.