OBJECTIVE: To demonstrate an oncologic basis for the recommendation to perform bilateral tonsillectomy as a routine measure in the search for a primary mucosal lesion in patients presenting with cervical nodal metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). STUDY DESIGN: A case series of individuals selected from a 3-year period is reported. SETTING: Academic medical center. RESULTS: Each individual presented with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma in a cervical lymph node from an unknown primary source. In each case, the primary source was identified in a tonsillectomy specimen, either located contralateral to the node, or in both tonsils. CONCLUSIONS: The rate of contralateral spread of metastatic cancer from occult tonsil lesions appears to approach 10%. For this reason, bilateral tonsillectomy is recommended as a routine step in the search for the occult primary in patients presenting with cervical metastasis of SCC and palatine tonsils intact.
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