Significance of lymph node metastasis in cancer dissemination of head and neck cancer

Transl Oncol. 2015 Apr;8(2):119-25. doi: 10.1016/j.tranon.2015.03.001.


Lymph node metastasis (LNM) in many solid cancers is a well-known prognostic factor; however, it has been debated whether regional LNM simply reflects tumor aggressiveness or is a source for further tumor dissemination. Similarly, the metastatic process in head and neck cancer (HNC) has not been fully evaluated. Thus, we aimed to investigate the relative significance of LNM in metastatic cascade of HNC using functional imaging of HNC patients and molecular imaging in in vivo models. First, we analyzed (18)Fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) parameters of 117 patients with oral cancer. The primary tumor and nodal PET parameters were measured separately, and survival analyses were conducted on the basis of clinical and PET variables to identify significant prognostic factors. In multivariate analyses, we found that only the metastatic node PET values were significant. Next, we compared the relative frequency of lung metastasis in primary ear tumors versus lymph node (LN) tumors, and we tested the rate of lung metastasis in another animal model, in which each animal had both primary and LN tumors that were expressing different colors. As a result, LN tumors showed higher frequencies of lung metastasis compared to orthotopic primary tumors. In color-matched comparisons, the relative contribution to lung metastasis was higher in LN tumors than in primary tumors, although both primary and LN tumors caused lung metastases. In summary, tumors growing in the LN microenvironment spread to systemic sites more commonly than primary tumors in HNC, suggesting that the adequate management of LNM can reduce further systemic metastasis.