Two-hundred-and-twenty-one patients with squamous carcinoma of the oropharynx treated by irradiation are presented.
The primary recurrence rate at five years in the previously untreated patients was 27%, but was dictated by neither host factors (age, sex and general condition) nor tumour factors (site, T-stage and histological grade).
Pre-operative histological diagnosis had a very high sensitivity but a low specificity, indicating that false positives are common but false negatives unusual. Twenty per cent of patients with a recurrent primary tumour were untreatable.
The five year survival after a primary recurrence was 31 per cent. Sixty-eight per cent of patients undergoing major surgery recovered without a major complication, and the hospital mortality rate was three per cent, due entirely to major medical catastrophes. The major complication rate in those undergoing flap repair after major resection was seven percent.
The metastatic rate in lymph nodes was 44 per cent at five years, and again this did not depend on any host or tumour factors. The survival at five years after node recurrence was a mere 19 per cent, and the length of survival was related to the primary site of the original tumour and the presence of extranodal disease. Two-thirds of patients had advanced disease (N2 and N3) when node recurrence was diagnosed and about 15 percent were unsuitable for surgery.