Objective: To evaluate the feasibility and predictive ability of the sentinel node localization technique for patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity or oropharynx and clinically negative necks. Design: Prospective, efficacy study comparing the histopathologic status of the sentinel node with that of the remaining neck dissection specimen. Setting: Tertiary referral center. Patients: Patients with T1 or T2 disease and clinically negative necks were eligible for the study. Nine previously untreated patients with oral cavity or oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma were enrolled in the study. Interventions: Ulfiltered technetium Tc 99m sulfur colloid injections of the primary tumor and lymphoscintigraphy were performed on the day before surgery. Intraoperatively, the sentinel node(s) was localized with a gamma probe and removed after tumor resection and before neck dissection. Main Outcome Measures: The primary outcome was the negative predictive value of the histopathologic status of the sentinel node for predicting cervical metastases. Results: Sentinel nodes were identified in 9 previously untreated patients. In 5 patients, there were no positive nodes. In 4 patients, the sentinel nodes were the only histopathologically positive nodes. In previously untreated patients, the sentinel node technique had a negative predictive value of 100% for cervical metastasis. Conclusions: Our preliminary investigation shows that sentinel node localization is technically feasible in head and neck surgery and is predictive of cervical metastasis. The sentinel node technique has the potential to decrease the number of neck dissections performed in clinically negative necks, thus reducing the associated morbidity for patients in this group.
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