Concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy (CRT) has become standard treatment for many patients with advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). This has led to controversy concerning the role of neck dissection (ND) in this setting. The current debate is focused on N2-N3 disease and the ability of a clinical complete response to predict the absence of viable cells in the ND specimen. Proponents of a systematic planned ND argue that it improves regional control and possibly disease-specific survival. They assert that a clinical response does not predict the pathologic response, and that in the event of recurrence in the neck, a surgical salvage procedure is unlikely to succeed. Conversely, there are many arguments in favor of performing ND only for patients who have evidence of residual neck disease because of the very low probability of isolated neck recurrence following a complete response. Proponents argue that for complete responders, planned ND is associated with no survival benefit. As planned surgery will only benefit patients with residual disease in the neck alone, there is a high rate of unnecessary ND with its associated morbidity. Another question concerns the appropriate type of ND to be performed. Even if required after chemoradiation, selective ND is oncologically feasible with minimal morbidity. Lastly, robust data from a randomized trial demonstrating the superiority of one approach vs. the other are lacking. After conducting a review of recent literature on the subject, the authors conclude that planned ND is not necessary for patients with complete response because of the availability of improved diagnostic follow up modalities, and the increased sensitivity to CRT of HNSCC, particularly HPV associated tumors.
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