Management of the clinically negative neck among patients with oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia has been based on the site and stage of the primary cancer, the likely incidence of microscopic nodal involvement, the treatment modality used for the primary cancer, and whether the neck will be entered during resection or reconstruction. This report analyzes the results of treatment when patients are allocated to either treatment or observation of the neck based on these clinical factors.
This is a prospectively documented series of 162 consectively treated patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity and oropharynx and clinically negative necks, treated by 1 surgeon (C.J.O.). There were 128 oral cavity and 34 oropharyngeal cancers clinically staged at T1 for 62 patients, T2 for 61, T3 for 16, and T4 for 23 patients. Management of the neck consisted of elective neck dissection (END) in 96 patients (12 bilateral), elective radiotherapy in 8, and observation in 58. Neck treatment correlated with the T stage in a statistically significant way. Forty-six patients underwent postoperative radiotherapy, which was directed to the neck in 22 patients because of pathological findings following neck dissection. Free-flap reconstruction was used in 90 patients.
Metastatic squamous cell carcinoma was identified in 32 of 108 neck dissections (30%). There was 1 positive node in 15 necks, 2 positive nodes in 11 necks, and 3 or more positive nodes in 6 necks. Extracapsular spread was present in 8 of 32 positive END specimens (25%). Regional control rates in the neck at 3 years were 94% for END, 100% for elective radiotherapy, and 98% for patients initially observed and then treated by therapeutic neck dissection. Death with uncontrolled disease in the neck occurred in 4 of 96 patients (4%) after END and 1 of 58 patients (2%) after neck observation. Overall disease-specific survival was 83%, comprising an 86% rate for patients with pathologically negative necks and 68% if pathologically positive. Disease-specific survival was 86% at 3 years for patients having END, 67% following radiotherapy, and 94% for the observation group.
Elective neck dissection was performed in most patients, and occult metastatic disease was found in nearly 30% of neck dissections. Observation was most frequently used for patients with early stage disease, and subsequent development of neck metastases was uncommon (9%) in this group. Selective treatment of the clinically negative neck based on the primary tumor site and stage led to a high rate of regional disease control in this series.