Accurate histopathologic assessment of neck dissections is of paramount importance. Retrospective analyses of the distribution of lymph node metastases have formed the rationale for elective neck dissection. However, standard techniques for examination of neck dissection specimens may have difficulty in correctly recognizing node levels and may also miss micrometastases, microscopic extracapsular spread, and soft tissue deposits.
Two hundred thirty-seven neck dissections were performed in 173 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the upper aerodigestive tract between August 1995 and November 2000. The neck dissections were separated into node levels peroperatively, sectioned at 6μm thickness, and stained with hematoxylin and eosin.
Eleven thousand three hundred forty-nine lymph nodes were identified and examined. The mean yield per neck dissection was 50.4 (range, 12–131); 21.4% had extracapsular spread, 11.0% had soft tissue deposits, and 13.3% had both. A third of the metastatic nodes were 3 mm or less in diameter.
The accurate pathologic staging of the neck in patients with upper aerodigestive tract squamous cell cancer is important for providing prognostic information and optimizing the treatment plan for the patient. Accurate staging also allows the changing patterns of disease to be monitored and allows equitable comparison of patients in clinical trials and among surgical units. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck 25: 194–197, 2003