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Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013 Apr;21(2):112-7. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0b013e32835e28d2.

From wide excision to a compartmental approach in tongue tumors: what is going on?

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  • 1Division of Head and Neck Surgery, European Institute of Oncology, Milan, Italy.



Surgical approaches to tongue cancer have not changed substantially over the years. The literature proposes some indications for tumor excision even though type of intervention, resection margins, neck dissection, and 'en bloc' resection versus separate excision of tumor and lymph nodes do not seem to be standardized. The purpose of this review is to describe the evolution of surgical management of tongue carcinoma with particular attention to recent reports focusing on compartmental tongue surgery.


The current literature usually describes resection of tongue carcinoma within wide disease-free margins, ranging from 1.5 to 2 cm. In case of advanced-stage tumors, performing concomitant neck dissection is recommended; otherwise, a deferred neck dissection is indicated if depth of neoplastic infiltration exceeds 4 mm. In recent years, a new technical approach has been formulated based on anatomy of the tongue, thus, introducing the concept of an anatomy-based, function sparing, compartmental surgery.


Applying such a proposal to clinical practice aims at standardizing a surgical procedure that otherwise might be arbitrary. Compartmental surgery improves overall survival, does not seem to worsen functional outcomes of the residual tongue, and allows comparison of case studies.

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