Management of the clinically negative neck in early-stage head and neck cancers after transoral resection

Head Neck. 2011 Aug;33(8):1210-9. doi: 10.1002/hed.21505. Epub 2010 Dec 6.


The decision regarding treatment of the clinically negative neck has been debated extensively. This is particularly true with early-stage tumors for which surgery is the treatment of choice, and the tumor has been resected transorally without a cervical incision. Elective neck dissection in this situation is an additional procedure with potential associated morbidity. The alternative strategy for the clinically negative neck is to "wait and watch." Both an elective neck dissection policy and a "watchful waiting" policy have their proponents. The purpose of this article was for us to review the literature about this subject to try to answer the following question: if the tumor has been resected transorally, should an elective treatment of the neck be performed or is a "watchful waiting" policy safe and adequate? We conclude that, currently, the best available evidence suggests that elective neck dissection does not seem to be superior to the policy of observation without neck surgery, with regard to survival and control of neck disease. This review highlights the need for further well-designed prospective studies that will provide more reliable answers to the debatable issue of the management of the clinically negative neck in such cases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery*
  • Decision Making
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / trends*
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mouth / surgery
  • Neck Dissection / standards
  • Neck Dissection / trends*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Analysis
  • Watchful Waiting / methods