MR imaging in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck with no palpable lymph nodes

Acta Radiol. 1997 Sep;38(5):810-4. doi: 10.1080/02841859709172415.


Purpose: To assess the efficacy of MR imaging in the detection of lymph node metastasis in patients with no palpable lymph nodes ("N0 neck") who have squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck region.

Material and methods: MR neck imagings in 18 patients who underwent neck dissection (bilaterally in 2) for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck region were examined preoperatively for the purpose of detecting lymph node metastases. The imaging features taken into consideration were: size (cutoff point 10 mm), grouping, presence of central necrosis, and appearance of extracapsular spread. The MR examinations comprised spin-echo T1- and T2-weighted sequences. The MR findings were compared with those of surgery and histopathological examination.

Results: MR suggested metastatic lymph node involvement in 5 necks. In 2 of these, central necrosis was seen in the enlarged lymph nodes. In a third, a grouping of the lymph nodes was noted. Extracapsular spread was not present. Histopathological examination revealed metastatic lymph nodes in 7 of the 20 necks, the rate of clinically occult disease being 35%, and 4 of them had been accurately graded by MR. There was one false-positive MR examination. The MR sensitivity was 57.1% and specificity 92.3%.

Conclusion: MR may reveal metastatic lymph nodes in patients with no clinical evidence of metastasis. However, conventional MR techniques are not always sufficient for decision-making on surgery in cases of "N0 neck".

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / instrumentation
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck
  • Palpation*