The detection of cervical lymph nodal metastasis and carotid artery invasion by metastatic lymph nodes is an important issue in the management of head and neck malignancies. This study compared the evaluation of metastasis by palpation, ultrasonography (USG) and computed tomography (CT) in patients with known head and neck malignancies.
Twenty-five consecutive patients with head and neck malignancy were prospectively evaluated for the presence of cervical lymphadenopathy and carotid artery invasion. All patients underwent clinical examination (palpation), USG and CT examination. A modified CT criteria was employed which yielded acceptable results for the detection of metastatic nodes. Radical neck dissection was performed for 26 neck sides, and the results of pre-operative evaluation were confirmed by the surgical and histopathological findings.
Palpation, ultrasound and CT have comparable sensitivity in the determination of metastasis involving cervical lymph nodes. Thus palpation should be employed as the primary method of assessment of secondaries in the neck.
However, palpation is less sensitive than CT and USG in the detection of carotid artery involvement, hence the clinical suspicion of arterial invasion should be confirmed by either CT or USG which have similar accuracy in the detection of carotid artery invasion.