Clinical, histopathologic, and radiographic indicators of malignancy in head and neck paragangliomas

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Oct;143(4):531-7. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2010.05.031. Epub 2010 Aug 16.


Objective: The goal of this study is to review our series of head and neck paragangliomas to identify factors that may help in predicting malignancy.

Study design: Case series with chart review.

Setting: Academic medical center.

Subjects and methods: Subjects with head and neck paragangliomas at our institution from 1976 to current were reviewed. In addition to statistical comparisons of epidemiologic factors, pathologic and radiographic characteristics were reviewed.

Results: Of the 84 subjects, there were seven malignant paragangliomas (8%). Age was found to be significantly different between the benign and malignant subgroups, with an average age of 54 ± 16 and 40 ± 12 years, respectively (P = 0.02). Pain was a presenting complaint in five patients with benign disease (6%), and five of the seven malignant patients (71%) presented with pain, showing a significant association between pain and disease type (P < 0.0001). The odds ratio for a patient with pain having a malignant tumor was 36 (95% CI: 5.5-234). Enlarging neck mass was noted in all cases of malignant disease, but only in 31 percent of cases of benign disease (P < 0.0001). In a secondary analysis of carotid body tumors alone, enlarging neck mass was not found to be significant between benign and malignant disease (P = 0.14). However, pain continued to be significantly different, with 67 percent of malignant lesions demonstrating pain, compared with only 11 percent of benign lesions (P = 0.01).

Conclusion: This study suggests that pain, a rapidly enlarging neck mass, and younger age are predictive factors of underlying malignancy, which should prompt one to consider an aggressive diagnostic and management approach.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aortic Bodies / pathology
  • Carotid Body Tumor / diagnosis
  • Carotid Body Tumor / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Body Tumor / pathology
  • Female
  • Glomus Jugulare Tumor / diagnosis
  • Glomus Jugulare Tumor / diagnostic imaging
  • Glomus Jugulare Tumor / pathology
  • Glomus Tympanicum Tumor / diagnosis
  • Glomus Tympanicum Tumor / diagnostic imaging
  • Glomus Tympanicum Tumor / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraganglioma / diagnosis*
  • Paraganglioma / diagnostic imaging
  • Paraganglioma / pathology
  • Radiography
  • Young Adult