Utility of PET-CT in detecting nodal metastasis in cN0 early stage oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma
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BACKGROUND: Management of the clinically node-negative neck (cN0) in patients with early stage oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (OCSCC) is challenging. Accurate imaging alternatives to elective neck dissections would help reduce surgical morbidity. While pooled studies suggest that imaging modalities have similar accuracy in predicting occult nodal disease, no study has examined the utility of PET-CT in this specific population of low-volume, clinically T1 and T2 OCSCC patients. METHODS: A retrospective review of patients in the Alberta Cancer Registry who were diagnosed with cT1 or T2N0M0 OCSCC who underwent elective unilateral or bilateral neck dissections was performed. Pre-operative PET-CT and CT necks were reviewed for number of radiographically suspicious lymph nodes. Surgical pathology reports were reviewed to obtain the total number of nodes sampled and number of malignant nodes. RESULTS: Between 2009 and 2013, 148 patients were diagnosed with cT1 or T2N0M0 OCSCC. Of these, 96 patients underwent elective neck dissections. All patients underwent preoperative CT of the neck with 32 patients having undergone additional preoperative PET-CT. Based on finally surgical pathology, the overall rate of occult metastasis was 13.5% (13/96). The overall sensitivity and specificity of PET-CT in this cohort was 21.4% and 98.4%, respectively with a negative predictive value of 99.1%. Although sensitivity improved in patients with tumors ≥2 cm and depth ≥4 mm, specificity remained unchanged. CONCLUSION: In patients with cT1 and T2N0 OCSCC, PET-CT has high negative predictive value. These patients can be considered for treatment with single modality surgical resection and elective neck dissection.
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