Should cervical ultrasonography be a routine staging investigation for lung cancer patients with impalpable cervical lymph nodes?

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2004 Apr;25(4):486-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2003.12.026.


Objectives: Detection of cervical N3 lymph nodes is currently not a routine preoperative investigation for lung cancer patients. We designed a study to assess if the frequency and accuracy of detection of metastatic cervical lymph nodes using cervical ultrasonography (US) and fine needle aspiration (FNA) justify their routine use in all lung cancer patients with impalpable cervical lymph nodes.

Methods: Fifty patients with suspected and potentially operable non-small cell lung cancer were enrolled. Patients with palpable cervical lymph nodes were excluded. In addition to routine preoperative investigations, all patients received cervical US to determine the presence of cervical lymph nodes. Nodes suspicious of harboring malignancy according to a specific set of sonographic criteria (which include shape, echogenicity, nodal architecture, and vascular patterns) were subjected to biopsy by ultrasound-guided FNA.

Results: Normal cervical lymph nodes were detected by cervical US in 30 patients (60%). Cervical lymph nodes suspicious of harboring malignancy were detected in 10 patients (20%). FNA confirmed cervical nodal metastasis in four of these patients (8%). The TNM staging of two patients (4%) was revised up to stage IIIb as a result, excluding them from further surgery. Cost analysis suggests this technique to be cost-effective when used as a routine preoperative investigation to exclude patients from unnecessary surgical intervention. No mortality or complications were encountered in all patients.

Conclusions: Cervical US and FNA is a safe and cost-effective method of evaluating the status of impalpable cervical lymph nodes in lung cancer patients. Further study is warranted to establish the role of cervical US and FNA in lung cancer staging algorithms.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / secondary*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Palpation
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler