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Laryngoscope. 2000 Sep;110(9):1425-30.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging using iron oxide particles in characterizing head and neck adenopathy.

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Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City 52242-1078, USA.



In lymph nodes harboring metastases the reticuloendothelial system is replaced by tumor cells and does not concentrate iron particles. This study assesses the value of contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) using ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide particles (Combidex, Advanced Magnetics, Inc., Cambridge, MA) to characterize and stage neck nodes.


Prospective analysis of neck imaging by Combidex MRI, with correlation from pathological assessment of resected lymph nodes.


Nine patients underwent MRI and subsequent bilateral neck dissections (three), unilateral neck dissections (five) or fine-needle aspiration (one). Each case was evaluated for the number, location, MRI characteristics, and pathological assessment of lymph nodes.


Forty-nine separate nodal levels were evaluated with both Combidex MRI and pathological assessment. The presence of metastatic nodal involvement among 45 levels was correctly assessed by the Combidex MRI (three false-negative results, one false-positive result; sensitivity, 84%; specificity, 97%). Analysis was possible for 101 of the individual lymph nodes identified by MRI that could be correlated with individual nodes pathologically examined. Combidex MRI assessment was correct for 99 nodes (one-false positive result, one false-negative result; sensitivity, 95%, specificity, 99%). Standard MRI interpretation without Combidex identified that 12 of 18 nodes (67%) that were greater than or equal to 10 mm (greatest dimension) contained tumor, whereas 9 of 83 nodes (ll%) that were less than 10 mm contained tumor.


Combidex MRI provides functional information to characterize lymph nodes in the clinical staging of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. The inability of MRI to identify small lymph nodes restricts the usefulness of this technique.

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