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Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2008 Apr;28(2):49-54.

Narrow-band imaging: a new tool for evaluation of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Review of the literature.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, University of Brescia, Brescia, Italy.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma of the upper aerodigestive tract is well known for its frequently late presentation and diagnosis at an advanced stage. In addition, it is well recognized that it may arise in multiple sites, either synchronously or metachronously. Thus it should be imperative to endoscopically screen the upper aerodigestive tract of patients at risk for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma with a new diagnostic tool, especially due to the fact that early lesions are very difficult to detect even by multiple passes with a standard endoscopy, if they are < or = 1 cm in diameter. Lugol chromoendoscopy, which is mainly used in the oesophagus, is not suitable for the head and neck region due to severe mucosal irritation. Herein, narrow-band imaging is described, a diagnostic tool already proved as a useful screening method in other endoscopic fields, and its application in the early detection of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma is reviewed, as reported by previous studies in the otolaryngologic literature. Narrow-band imaging relies on the principle of depth of penetration of light, with the narrow-band blue light having a short wavelength (415 nm) penetrating into the mucosa and highlighting the superficial vasculature. Furthermore, the blue filter is designed to correspond to the peak absorption spectrum of haemoglobin to enhance the image of capillary vessels on surface mucosa. Thus, superficial mucosal lesions that would be missed by regular white light endoscopy, are identified, in view of their neoangiogenetic pattern of vasculature, using the blue light of the narrow-band imaging. Narrow-band imaging has been used extensively in the lower aerodigestive system, yet there are only 2 reports of applications in the region of the head and neck, specifically the oropharynx and the hypopharynx. However, these are not the only sites that can benefit from narrow-band imaging. Herewith, the uses and importance are highlighted of narrow-band imaging as a future diagnostic tool in otolaryngology, in the pre-, intra- and post-operative settings.

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