Screening for head and neck cancer in liver transplant candidates: A review of 11 years of experience at the University of Pittsburgh


  • This work was supported by funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb to Dr. Jennifer R. Grandis, and a grant from the National Institutes of Health (T32 CA60397 and SPORE P50 CA097190) to Dr. Raj C. Dedhia. The authors have no other funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.



At our institution, any liver transplant candidate with a recent history of smoking combined with daily use of alcohol prior to a 6-month sobriety period warrants formal evaluation by otolaryngology. Given the significant resource consumption and lack of evidence in support of this strategy, we sought to determine the effectiveness of these guidelines in detecting head and neck cancer.

Study Design:

Retrospective review of clinical database and patient billing records.


Under an institutional review board-approved protocol, a search was performed for patients seen at our institution's otolaryngology office from 1999 to 2010. This patient list was cross-matched with the patients evaluated for transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Starzl Transplantation Institute during the same timeframe. A search for the diagnosis of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNC) among these patients was carried out through both a National Cancer Institute-affiliated clinical research registry and ICD-9 codes from billing records. Otolaryngology attending physicians were also asked to recall detection of HNC upon screening of this patient population.


Of 581 patient evaluations performed by the otolaryngologist for HNC screening prior to liver transplantation from 1999 to 2009, one (0.17% of evaluations) case of HNC was detected.


Given the consumption of resources required for this screening strategy and the limited yield, it appears that current screening guidelines are ineffective and need to be reconsidered.