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Ann Surg Oncol. 2004 Feb;11(2):213-8.

Improved staging of cervical metastases in clinically node-negative patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Plastic Surgery Unit, Canniesburn Hospital, Bearsden, Glasgow, United Kingdom.



The management of the N0 neck in oral and oropharyngeal cancer is often determined by the risk of metastases related to features of the primary tumor. Where the risk of metastases is >20%, elective neck dissection (END) has been advocated. This study reviewed clinical staging, surgical staging, pathologic staging, and histopathologic parameters to determine the prediction of nodal metastases and micrometastases in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


A prospective series of 61 clinically neck node-negative patients undergoing surgical resection of a T1/2 intraoral or oropharyngeal invasive squamous cell carcinoma and surgical staging of the neck, with sentinel node biopsy (SNB) alone or SNB-assisted END, between June 1998 and March 2002 were included in this study.


Pathologic upstaging of the clinically N0 neck occurred in 27 (44%) of 61 patients. Routine pathology with hematoxylin and eosin upstaged disease in 22 of 27 patients (sensitivity of 81%). Five patients with micrometastasis were staged pN1mi after stepped serial sectioning and immunohistochemistry. Tumor thickness, a noncohesive invasive front, and perineural and bone invasion were all histological predictors for cervical metastases. Five patients with micrometastases were staged pN1mi.


Both clinical staging and routine pathologic staging underestimate the presence of nodal metastases. Staging with either SNB alone or SNB-assisted END shows promise in the management of the N0 neck by identifying patients with micrometastases (pN1mi).

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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