Management of the N0 neck in oral squamous cell carcinoma

Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2008 Aug;20(3):477-97. doi: 10.1016/j.coms.2008.02.002.


Oral squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) has an unpredictable capacity to metastasize to the neck, an event that dramatically worsens prognosis. Metastasis occurs even in earlier stages when no neck lymph node involvement is clinically detectable (N0). Management of the N0 neck, namely when and how to electively treat, has been debated extensively. This article presents the controversies surrounding management of the N0 neck, and the benefits and pitfalls of different approaches used in evaluation and treatment. As current methods of assessing the risk for occult metastasis are insufficiently accurate and prone to underestimation of actual risk, and because selective neck dissection (SND) is an effective treatment and has minimal long-term detriment to quality of life, the authors believe that all patients who have oral SCC, excluding lip SCC, should be prescribed elective treatment of the neck lymphatics. However, this opinion remains controversial. Because of the morbidity of radiation therapy and because treatment of the primary tumor is surgical, elective neck dissection is the preferred treatment. In deciding the extent of the neck dissection, several retrospective studies and one randomized clinical trial have shown SND of levels I through III to be highly efficacious.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Trees
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Mouth Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neck / surgery*
  • Neck Dissection / economics
  • Neck Dissection / methods*
  • Neck Dissection / statistics & numerical data
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy