Incidence and outcome for patients with occult lymph node involvement in T1 and T2 oral squamous cell carcinoma: a prospective study

Author: Thomas Mücke

The evidence base to inform the decision making process in patients with early stage oral cancer and a clinical and radiological N0 neck remains insufficient to answer the question when it is safe to "watch and wait" and when to proceed with a selective neck dissection.
A total of 327 consecutive cases of histopathologically staged T1-2, N0-1 and M0, but clinically N0, squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue were prospectively analysed. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used for statistical analysis and are represented as Kaplan-Meier analyses or Cox proportional hazard regression analysis.
In 61 patients (18.65%) lymph node involvement was found in the histopathological processing. The mean survival of all patients was 73.3 +/- 48.6 months. The 2-year and 5-year overall survival rates of all patients were 87.5% and 68.4%, respectively. The 2-year and 5-year survival rates for stage N0 were 89.1% and 70.7% compared to 83.3% and 62.9% in N1 situations. The 2-year and 5-year survival rates for stage T1 were 87.9% and 73.6% compared to 87.2% and 65.3% in stage T2, respectively. The time to recurrence in stage N0 was 35.1 +/- 30.5 months compared to 25.63 +/- 24.6 months in cases with N1 disease. Stage T1 was associated with a time to recurrence of 38.1 +/- 33.9 months compared with 27.2 +/- 22.7 months in patients classified T2.Variables found to be strongly associated with survival in the univariate analysis included older age, higher tumour and N stage, and grading. Age, tumour stage (p = 0.011, 95% CI, 1.09 to 2.0), nodal stage (p = 0.038, 95% CI, 1.02 to 2.07), and recurrence were independently and significantly associated with survival in the multivariate analysis.
This confirms a high overall disease free survival for patients with T1 and N0 treated with single modality surgery and in common with the literature confirms the poor impact on prognosis of the N positive neck.
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