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Ann Surg Oncol. 1999 Sep;6(6):572-8.

Pulmonary metastasectomy for head and neck cancers.

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  • 1Thoracic Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, USA.



Distant metastases from carcinomas that arise from the head and neck region are infrequent. The most common site is the lung. To evaluate the results of resection of pulmonary metastases for head and neck cancers, we reviewed our own cases of these metastases.


Between November 1966 and March 1995, 83 patients with pulmonary metastases from head and neck cancers underwent 94 thoracic operations. All patients had obtained or had obtainable locoregional control of their primary head and neck cancers. Kaplan-Meier and Cox regression models were used to analyze the prognostic factors for survival after metastasectomy.


Median age was 53 years (range, 17-77). Fifty-nine were male and 24 were female. Forty-one patients had squamous cell cancers, and 36 had glandular tumors that consisted mostly of thyroid and adenoid cystic carcinomas. The median disease-free interval from the time of treatment of the head and neck primary cancers to the development of pulmonary metastases was 27 months. Sixty-eight (82%) patients had complete resection. Overall operative mortality rate was 2%. Overall actuarial survival rate after metastasectomy was 50% at 5 years. Patients with glandular tumors had a 5-year survival rate of 64% compared with 34% for patients with squamous cell cancers. When the patients with glandular tumors were analyzed according to their histology, patients with adenoid cystic carcinomas had an 84% 5-year survival, but none remained disease-free. Patients with thyroid cancers fared similarly whether they were treated medically or surgically. On multivariate analysis, the adverse prognostic factors for patients with squamous cell cancers were incomplete resection, age greater than 50 years, and disease-free interval less than or equal to 2 years.


Approximately 30% of patients with pulmonary metastases from squamous cell cancers of the head and neck who underwent complete resection of all their metastases can expect to achieve long-term survival. The role of pulmonary resection for patients with glandular tumors is unclear.

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