Surgical management of the N0 neck in early stage T1–2 oral cancer; a personal perspective of early and late impalpable disease
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The management of the N0 neck in early stage oral cancer remains controversial. The evidence in the literature for elective neck dissection, which is reviewed in this paper, is conflicting. My personal view is that most papers mistakenly assume that the N0 equates to an “early stage” neck whereas a neck with palpable nodes represents disease at a “late” stage.
I believe that this is the same mindset that prevented us from realizing that depth rather than size was the important prognostic determinant for the primary tumor; because the T stage was based on tumor size. The N stage is also based on size and number of nodes and by these criteria N0 would be the earliest stage. However, although an N0 neck with impalpable intra-nodal disease may be regarded as early impalpable disease an N0 neck with microscopic extra-capsular spread (ECS) would be “late/advanced” impalpable disease. Likewise, a clinically positive neck with intra-nodal disease still represents early disease compared to a clinically positive neck with ECS.
The lack of trials and studies stratifying NO and N +ve necks into early and late disease and comparing outcomes between these cohorts may explain the lack of clear-cut evidence regarding the role for elective neck dissection.
KeywordsN0 neck T1–2 oral cancer Role of selective neck dissection
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