Bone marrow metastasis/carcinomatosis in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

J Oral Pathol Med. 2021 Nov;50(10):955-961. doi: 10.1111/jop.13184. Epub 2021 Apr 13.


Background: Literature on bone marrow carcinomatosis in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is sparse. This work aims to augment understanding on its characteristic features, clinical presentation, investigations, treatment and outcomes.

Methods: Comprehensive literature review of all published cases of metastasis of HNSCC to the bone marrow with regard to clinical presentation, diagnosis, treatment and survival outcomes of this disease. Each of these factors is discussed forming an up-to-date review on the subject.

Results: Eight case reports were identified, seven males and one female with an age range of 35-64 years. Primary sites were from the oral cavity (n = 4), oropharynx (n = 3) and supraglottis (n = 1). Six were stage four disease with nodal involvement, one case stage two and one case with unknown staging. Two of the oropharyngeal cancers were p16 positive, and one p16 status was not documented. Five patients presented with back pain, two patients had ecchymoses with bleeding, and one presented with sepsis and thrombocytopaenia. Three patients had proven disseminated intravascular coagulation. Four patients were treated with palliative chemoradiotherapy, one had palliative radiotherapy, one had radiotherapy and dendritic cell vaccine immunotherapy, and two died from the disease prior to any treatment. Various facets of presentation and management are discussed.

Conclusion: Bone marrow carcinomatosis from HNSCC is rare. It can present with a variety of non-specific symptoms, and a high index of suspicion is required to be able to diagnose the condition promptly. Aggressive chemotherapy is the treatment of choice but prognosis remains poor.

Keywords: bone marrow; carcinomatosis; head and neck; squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Marrow Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / therapy
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peritoneal Neoplasms*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck