Examining the need for neck dissection in the era of chemoradiation therapy for advanced head and neck cancer

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2006 May;132(5):526-31. doi: 10.1001/archotol.132.5.526.


Objectives: To (1) determine clinical factors that predict pathologic complete response (pCR) on neck dissection after sequential chemoradiotherapy (SCRT) for advanced head and neck cancer and (2) compare survival parameters between those who underwent neck dissection and those who did not among those patients with a clinical complete response (cCR) in the neck after SCRT, thus assessing the benefit of neck dissection in patients with a cCR in the neck.

Design: Retrospective review with a mean follow-up of 3.5 years.

Setting: Regional cancer center.

Patients: The study population comprised 55 patients undergoing SCRT for advanced head and neck cancer with N2 or N3 neck disease. Three patients developed progressive disease and were excluded, and 28 patients underwent neck dissection.

Interventions: Patients were assessed by physical examination and radiographically after SCRT.

Main outcome measures: Physical examination and radiographic assessments of residual neck disease were compared with pathologic findings in those patients who underwent neck dissection. Survival comparisons were made between patients with a cCR in the neck who underwent neck dissection and those who did not.

Results: Of 28 patients who underwent neck dissection, 8 had persistent pathologically positive nodal disease: 5 (45%) of 11 had N3 and 3 (18%) of 17 had N2 disease. Individual clinical neck assessments after SCRT were fairly predictive of a negative pathologic finding at neck dissection. The negative predictive values were physical examination (75%), computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging (71%), and positron emission tomography (75%). However, when physical examination, imaging studies, and positron emission tomography all indicated a complete response, this accurately predicted a pCR on neck dissection. There appeared to be no improvement in survival parameters when a neck dissection was performed on patients with a cCR in the neck.

Conclusions: Patients with N3 disease are at high risk for residual neck metastasis after SCRT. Patients with N2 disease can be assessed with physical examination, imaging studies, and positron emission tomography. If these all indicate a cCR, then neck dissection is likely not needed. Neck dissection did not appear to further improve survival parameters for patients with a cCR in the neck.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Dissection*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate