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BMC Ear Nose Throat Disord. 2006 Feb 17;6:2. doi: 10.1186/1472-6815-6-2.

Surgical margins and survival after head and neck cancer surgery.

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Department of Research & Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, USA.
Head & Neck Surgical Oncology, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center Los Angeles, USA.
Department of Clinical Services, Southern California Permanente Medical Group Pasadena, USA.
Contributed equally



Mixed results exist as to whether positive surgical margins impact survival. The aim of this study was to determine whether positive surgical margins are indeed associated with decreased survival in patients with primary head and neck cancer.


We conducted a retrospective cohort study of 261 cases diagnosed with cancer of the larynx or tongue between 1995 and 1999. Cases were followed through December 31, 2002. Survival curves by margin status were generated by Kaplan-Meier methods. Categorical data were evaluated with odds ratios (OR).


All-cause mortality was markedly higher in cases with positive margins as compared with those with negative margins (54% versus 29%, P = 0.005). This pattern also appeared after adjusting for age and sex (OR = 2.97, 95% CI: 1.29-6.84).


Our findings suggest that positive surgical margin status is associated with increased mortality. This association also generally persists after adjustment for tumor size, stage, and adjuvant therapy.

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