Unambiguous advanced radiologic extranodal extension determined by MRI predicts worse outcomes in nasopharyngeal carcinoma: Potential improvement for future editions of N category systems

Radiother Oncol. 2021 Apr;157:114-121. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2021.01.015. Epub 2021 Jan 28.


Background and purpose: To explore the prognostic value of different radiologic extranodal extension (rENE) grades and their potential improvement for the 8th edition N category in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC).

Materials and methods: From 2009 to 2013, a cohort of 1887 patients with NPC was retrospectively enrolled and randomized to the training (n = 955) and validation (n = 932) groups. rENE was categorized as follows: grade 0, nodes without rENE; grade 1, nodes with rENE infiltrating the surrounding fat only; grade 2, matted nodes; grade 3, nodes with rENE infiltrating adjacent structures.

Results: The percentage of patients with MRI-positive cervical nodes was 66.5% (1254/1887), of whom grade 0, 1, 2 and 3 rENE cases accounted for 33.2% (416/1254), 14.9% (187/1254), 36.5% (458/1254) and 15.4% (193/1254), respectively. The kappa coefficients for the inter-rater and intra-rater assessments were 0.63, 0.51, 0.65 and 0.93, and 0.76, 0.69, 0.72 and 1.0 in grade 0, 1, 2 and 3 rENE, respectively. Grade 3 rENE rather than grades 0-2 rENE was an independent unfavorable predictor of overall survival and disease-free survival (P < 0.001). Recursive partitioning analysis was applied to refine the N category: eN0 (N0), eN1 (N1 without grade 3), eN2 (N2 without grade 3), and eN3 (N1/N2 with grade 3, N3). Compared to the current system, the proposed N category performed better in hazard consistency, hazard discrimination, sample size balance and outcome prediction.

Conclusion: Grade 3 rENE was an independent unfavorable indicator of NPC. Upstaging patients in N1-2 with grade 3 rENE to N3 led to a superior prognostic performance.

Keywords: Magnetic resonance imaging; Nasopharyngeal carcinoma; Prognostication; Radiologic extranodal extension; Recursive partitioning analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Extranodal Extension*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / pathology
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies