The treatment of cervical lymph node metastases is an important part of the management of oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer. Metastases are already clinically present in 61 per cent (+ or −2.6 per cent) of patients at presentation. Previous studies concerning the prevalence and distribution of neck node metastases in oropharyngeal carcinoma have been retrospective, and little or no information is available about the histopathological methods used.
This study has prospectively analysed 85 neck dissection specimens in 72 consecutive patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx, both with clinically N0 and N+ve necks, to identify the prevalence and distribution of cervical metastases. We have used a technique to separate the neck dissection into nodal levels per-operatively, and then embedded the entire specimen for histological examination to avoid missing metastatic disease in small lymph nodes (<3mm diameter).