Accuracy, utility, and cost of frozen section margins in head and neck cancer surgery

Laryngoscope. 2000 Oct;110(10 Pt 1):1773-6. doi: 10.1097/00005537-200010000-00039.


Objectives: Intraoperative frozen section analysis of surgical margins is widely used in head and neck cancer surgery. This study evaluates frozen section accuracy relative to permanent controls and final margins from the entire specimen, the rate at which frozen sections impact intraoperative management, and the resultant cost.

Study design: Retrospective.

Methods: From 1997 to 1999 the frozen section results, permanent controls, and final tumor margins from 80 consecutive patients undergoing 420 intraoperative frozen section margins for head and neck malignancy were reviewed.

Results: A 98.3% accuracy rate (sensitivity, 88.8%; specificity, 98.9%) was found compared with permanent sections of the same tissue. However, 40% (8 of 20) of patients with positive final margins on the resection specimen, and 100% (15 of 15) with close (<5 mm) margins were not detected by frozen section analysis. The overall accuracy of frozen section in the evaluation of close or positive final margins was 71.3% (sensitivity, 34.3%; specificity, 100%). In addition, 5% (4 of 80) of patients potentially benefited from intraoperative frozen section by virtue of immediate margin revision. The estimated cost of intraoperative frozen section averaged as much as $3,123 per patient, with a cost-benefit ratio of 20:1.

Conclusions: Intraoperative frozen section margins are accurate, but they are costly and cannot reliably eradicate positive final margins. Patients with early-stage lesions and those undergoing re-resection for recurrence or salvage surgery after radiation failure derived the greatest potential benefit from frozen section margins.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Frozen Sections* / economics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity