Objectives: To evaluate the efficacy of afterloading brachytherapy following radical neck dissection (RND) in the management of extensive cervical lymph node disease in nasopharyngeal carcinoma after radiotherapy; and to examine prospectively prognostic factors and the pathologic behavior of neck disease.
Patients: Twenty-seven patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma who had extensive cervical lymph node metastasis following external radiotherapy were treated with RND. Thirteen of them also underwent afterloading brachytherapy with iridium wire (Ir 192). The RND specimens of the 27 patients were also examined with step serial whole-specimen sectioning.
Results: All patients survived and their wounds healed primarily. Pathologic examination revealed 183 tumor-bearing lymph nodes that contained tumors in the neck: level I, 4% (8/183); level II, 53% (96/183); level III, 34% (62/183); level IV, 5% (9/183); and level V, 4% (8/183). Extracapsular tumor extension was seen in 84% of patients. Multivariate analysis identified the number of tumor-bearing lymph nodes detected in the specimens to be the only significant factor that affected control of disease. Although the neck disease in the group of patients who had afterloading brachytherapy was more extensive, the 3-year actuarial tumor control for the groups with and without brachytherapy were 60% and 61%, respectively.
Conclusions: Recurrent cervical lymph nodes after radiotherapy in nasopharyngeal carcinoma are extensive and RND is mandatory for a successful salvage. When the nodal metastasis infiltrate or adhere to surrounding tissue, afterloading brachytherapy with iridium wire can provide satisfactory local tumor control.