Computed tomography of the clinically negative neck

Head Neck. 1990 Mar-Apr;12(2):109-13. doi: 10.1002/hed.2880120203.


Members of the New York Head and Neck Society conducted a multi-institutional review correlating preoperative computed tomography (CT) of the neck with postoperative pathology in 59 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx, without palpable lymphadenopathy. All underwent CT followed by surgery that included partial or complete cervical lymphadenectomy. Sixteen (28%) patients had occult cervical metastases including 6 (17%) of 36 patients with "early stage" (T1 and T2) primary tumors and 10 (44%) of 23 patients with "advanced" (T3 or T4) lesions. There was agreement of CT scan findings with presence or absence of metastatic disease in 41 (69%) of 59 studies, with sensitivity 38%, and with specificity 81%. Findings of central lucency and nodal confluence were highly reliable indicators of malignancy, whereas nodal size bore a less direct relationship. Intravenous contrast medium was useful for anatomical delineation, but not for identification of malignancy. Review of films by a single radiologist did not produce greater diagnostic accuracy than the original interpretations. The authors conclude that while it is not possible to identify all instances of cervical node involvement, employment of CT in addition to physical examination and prognostication based on primary tumor stage will facilitate appropriate selection of patients for elective treatment of the neck.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnostic imaging
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Prognosis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*