Perineural invasion in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Jun;124(6):637-40. doi: 10.1001/archotol.124.6.637.


Objective: To determine if perineural invasion (PNI) of small nerves affects the outcome of patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the upper aerodigestive tract.

Design: Retrospective clinicopathological study of patients with at least 2 years of follow-up and with negative margins and no prior, synchronous, or metachronous SCC.

Setting: Academic otolaryngology department.

Patients: One hundred forty-two patients who had SCC of the oral cavity, oropharynx and hypopharynx, or larynx resected between 1981 and 1991.

Intervention: Surgery with or without adjuvant therapy.

Main outcome measures: Local recurrence was examined with respect to PNI, nerve diameter, and microvascular or microlymphatic invasion. Perineural invasion was correlated with lymph node metastasis, extracapsular spread, and survival.

Results: Perineural invasion of nerves less than 1 mm in diameter was present in 74 patients, lymphatic invasion in 53, and vascular invasion in 9. Perineural invasion was significantly associated with local recurrence (23% for PNI vs 9% for no PNI; P=. 02), and disease-specific mortality (54% mortality for PNI vs 25% for no PNI; P<.001). With extralaryngeal tumors, PNI was associated with nodal metastasis (73% vs 46%; P=.03). Perineural invasion was not associated with extracapsular spread (P=.47). Microvascular invasion, lymphatic invasion, and nerve diameter were not significantly related to local recurrence.

Conclusions: Perineural invasion of small nerves is associated with an increased risk of local recurrence and cervical metastasis and is, independent of extracapsular spread, a predictor of survival for patients with SCC of the upper aerodigestive tract.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery
  • Humans
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / pathology
  • Mouth Neoplasms / surgery
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Oropharynx
  • Peripheral Nerves / pathology*
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies