Background: The study aims at evaluation of the efficacy of elective neck dissection as a staging and therapeutic procedure for N0 neck of early carcinoma of the oral tongue by whole organ serial sectioning.
Methods: There were 50 stage I and II patients. The neck dissection specimens were whole organ sectioned in 3-mm intervals for the evaluation of nodal metastasis.
Results: There were 18 (36%) patients with subclinical nodal metastasis. The total number of metastatic nodes were 31 (1%) among all 2,826 nodes being examined. The metastatic foci had a median size of 3 mm and occupied a median of 6% of the cross sectional area of the involved nodes. The ipsilateral level II nodes were the commonest (26%) site of metastasis. Metastatic nodes were present in 34% patients who had negative preoperative radiological assessment and in 20% patients who had negative intraoperative frozen section sampling of neck nodes. Patients with subclinical nodal metastasis had a high incidence of regional recurrence (62%) and low survival (27%) when postoperative radiotherapy was not given after elective neck dissection.
Conclusions: Ipsilateral level I,II,III neck dissection is an adequate diagnostic procedure for staging of the N0 neck of early oral tongue carcinoma. Its diagnostic role cannot be replaced by the available pre-operative radiological screening and intra-operative frozen section sampling. However, elective selective neck dissection is an effective but not adequate therapeutic procedure, and post-operative adjuvant radiotherapy and chemotherapy have to be considered for all pathologically positive necks.