Objective: This study aimed (1) to investigate the relationship between the presence of lymph node central necrosis, viewed on pre-operative computed tomography imaging, and the occurrence of histopathologically determined metastatic lymph node extracapsular spread and (2) to determine whether a larger scale study would be valuable.
Materials and methods: Pre-operative computed tomography scans, surgical records and post-operative histopathological analysis results were reviewed for 19 consecutive neck dissections performed in 17 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.
Results: A total of 20/26 (77 per cent) lymph nodes with central necrosis had extracapsular spread on histopathological analysis. Twenty of 21 (95 per cent) lymph nodes with extracapsular spread had central necrosis on pre-operative computed tomography. Thirty-four of 40 (85 per cent) lymph nodes without extracapsular spread had no evidence of central necrosis on computed tomography. Only three of 12 (25 per cent) patients with lymph node central necrosis identified on pre-operative computed tomography were found to have actual necrosis on final histopathological analysis.
Conclusions: Lymph node central necrosis viewed on pre-operative computed tomography scans is a useful indicator of metastatic lymph node extracapsular spread, with a sensitivity of 95 per cent, a specificity of 85 per cent, a positive predictive value of 69 per cent and a negative predictive value of 98 per cent. Lymph node diameter is not a sensitive indicator of extracapsular spread.