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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1995 Feb 1;31(3):503-8.

Does pathologic node status affect local control in patients with carcinoma of the head and neck treated with radical surgery and postoperative radiotherapy?

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology and Nuclear Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA 19107.



To evaluate the effect of pathologic lymph node status and nodal stage on local control at the primary site in patients with advanced squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck, treated with radical surgery and postoperative irradiation.


Fifty-seven patients with advanced squamous cell carcinomas of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, larynx, and supraglottic larynx were analyzed. All patients underwent resection of the primary lesion, neck dissection, and postoperative radiotherapy. Minimum follow-up was 2 years. The median dose to the primary tumor bed was 60.4 Gray (range 39.7-72.0). Besides pathologic nodal status (pN0 vs. pN+) and nodal stage, the following factors were analyzed for their impact on local control: age, gender, T stage, tumor grade, resection margins, interval from surgery to irradiation, dose to the primary site, and overall treatment time.


The 3-year actuarial local control rate was 78%. When all patients were analyzed, nodal status (pN0 vs. pN+) did not affect control at the primary site (71% vs. 82%, p = 0.42). Nodal stage (pN0-N2a va. pN2b-N2c) was also not a significant factor for local control (74% vs. 82%, p = 0.57). When only patients with negative margins were analyzed, nodal status again did not impact on local control (79% vs. 90% for pN0 vs. pN+, p = 0.39). On univariate analysis, only tumor grade, margin status, and elapsed days were significant factors for local control. Local control was 85% for patients with negative margins vs. 60% for those with positive margins (p = 0.016). For patients with moderately and poorly differentiated tumors, local control was 86% as compared to 50% for patients with well-differentiated tumors (p = 0.007). When radiotherapy was completed within 50 days, local control was 93% as opposed to 63% for > 50 days (p = 0.016). On multivariate analysis, only margin status (p = 0.002) and tumor grade (p = 0.007) remained significant.


We conclude that neither the presence of pathologically positive nodes nor nodal stage is a prognostically significant factor for local control in patients who have undergone radical surgery and postoperative radiotherapy for advanced squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. We do not recommend a change in treatment philosophy, such as an increase in dose to the primary site, based on the pathologic status of the neck.

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