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Oral Dis. 2017 Apr;23(3):287-291. doi: 10.1111/odi.12528. Epub 2016 Jul 15.

An update on the latest evidence for managing the clinically negative neck (cN0) in oral squamous cell carcinoma.

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Department Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK.
Department of Gastroenterology, Torbay Hospital, Torquay, UK.


The single most important prognostic indicator for survival in oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the presence of lymph node metastases in the neck. While the treatment of the clinically node positive (cN+) neck is well established, the management of the clinically negative neck (cN0) is controversial. Various strategies have been advocated including close observation including regular ultrasound imaging, elective neck dissection and sentinel lymph node biopsy. Neck dissection surgery is not without potential morbidity with shoulder dysfunction being the main complication. A number of factors are associated with increased risk of neck node metastasis including primary tumour thickness and peri-neural invasion. A recent prospective randomised trial has found survival benefit following neck dissection even in patients with a cN0 neck at presentation. We discuss the latest evidence for managing the cN0 in OSCC and include our own experience on the role of neck dissection in certain cases.


clinically negative neck; imaging; neck dissection; oral squamous cell carcinoma; sentinel lymph node biopsy

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