Using a scanner rather than a scalpel could spare hundreds of thousands of cancer patients from risky surgery, a new study suggests.

Head and neck tumours once treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, usually need an operation in order to check visually whether the tumour has gone. The operations patients undergo last three hours and take at least a week of recovering in hospital, the BBC reported.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found 80% of the 564 patients studied did not need to have surgery and could have had a scan instead.

PET-CT scans use a radioactive dye which is taken in by rapidly dividing cancer cells. Through this method, it can be determined whether the cancer cells are still active without the need for surgery.

The study conducted by the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick saw survival rates between those who underwent surgery and those who had the PET-CT scan to be the same. Only one in five patients required an operation to remove cancerous tissue.

Professor Arnie Purushotham of Cancer Research UK said: “This is a really important study and if long-term follow-up confirms these results, this imaging technique could mean kinder treatments for patients.”

Looking for more cancer news?