To investigate the possible role of sentinel node biopsy (SNB) alone to upstage the clinically N0 neck in patients with oral and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.
Prospective clinical study.
Head and neck referral center.
Patients with primary untreated oral and/or oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma accessible to injection and with clinically N0 necks were enrolled in the study.
An SNB was performed after radiocolloid and blue dye injection. Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy and the perioperative use of a gamma probe identified radioactive sentinel nodes and visualization of blue-stained lymphatics identified blue sentinel nodes. If the sentinel node was found negative, there was no further treatment to the neck. If the sentinel node tested positive, a therapeutic neck dissection was performed. All patients underwent regular follow-up at the outpatient clinic to identify possible recurrence.
Main Outcome Measures
Upstaging of the clinically N0 neck by SNB and development of subsequent disease in SNB-negative necks.
An SNB was performed on 57 clinically N0 necks in 48 patients. Sentinel nodes were harvested in 43 (90%) of 48 patients. Fifteen (35%) of 43 patients were upstaged by SNB and 28 (65%) of 43 were staged SNB negative. There was a mean follow-up of 18 months. One patient developed subsequent disease after having been staged negative with SNB. The overall sensitivity of the procedure using the full pathologic protocol was 94% (15/16).
Sentinel node biopsy can be used to upstage the N0 neck in patients with early subclinical nodal disease. However, before it becomes the standard of care in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, longer follow-up observational trials are needed.