lymph node

Men with throat cancer will soon outnumber women with cervical cancer In The US

Author: Carrie Feibel

The national increase in cases of oropharyngeal cancer related to the human papilloma virus is troubling, because there is no screening test to catch it early, like the Pap test for cervical cancer.

The oropharynx is the area of the throat behind the mouth, and includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Oropharyngeal cancer is increasing in both men and women, but for reasons that aren’t well understood, male patients are outnumbering female patients by five to one, according to Dr. Erich Sturgis, a head and neck surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“It’s usually a man, and he notices it when he’s shaving. He notices a lump there,” Sturgis said. “That lump is actually the spread of the cancer from the tonsil or the base of the tongue to a lymph node. That means it’s already stage three at least.”

In the U.S., the number of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV are predicted to exceed the number of cervical cancers by 2020, Stugis said.

“With cervical cancer, we’ve seen declining numbers well before we had vaccination, and that’s due to the Pap smear being introduced back in the late 50s,” he said. “But we don’t have a screening mechanism for pharynx cancer.”

Research on an effective screening test for early-stage pharynx cancer is still underway. The reasons for the disproportionate effect on men are unknown. One theory is that people are engaging in more oral sex, but that doesn’t explain why men are more affected than women. Some suspect hormonal differences between men and women may be involved, and others hypothesize that it takes longer for women to “clear” the viral infection from their genitals, compared to men, according to Sturgis.

One of Sturgis’s patients, Bert Noojin, is an attorney in Alabama. He felt a little knot in his neck in early 2011. It took three trips to his primary care doctor, then a visit with an otolaryngologist before he was referred for a biopsy. Noojin was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer, but he still felt fine.

“It was still hard for me to believe I was sick in any way,” he recalled. “I didn’t even have a serious sore throat.”

After being diagnosed, Noojin came to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion and to pursue treatment. It was less than three months from when he first felt the knot, but an oncologist warned him the cancer was spreading fast.
“He said ‘Well, you need to start treatment right away’ and I said, ‘Well, do I have a week or 10 days to go home and get some things in order?’ and he said ‘No.’”

“He said ‘If you leave here, and you’re not part of our treatment plan when you leave here, I don’t think we’ll be able to help you.’ That is how far this disease had progressed, in such a very short time.”

The prognosis for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer is good, especially compared to patients whose throat cancer is caused by heavy use of tobacco or alcohol, according to Sturgis. Between 75 and 80 percent of patients with the HPV-related type survive more than five years.

But the treatment is difficult, and can include “long-term swallowing problems, long-term problems with carotid artery narrowing, and long-term troubles with the teeth and jaw bone, and things that can cause a need for major surgeries later.”

In the summer of 2011, Noojin began chemotherapy and radiation at MD Anderson. He struggled with pain, nausea, and swallowing, and had to get a temporary feeding tube.

“Your throat just shuts down,” he said. “You’re burned on the inside. Just swallowing your own saliva, as an instinct, hurts.”

Noojin lost 45 pounds during treatment but feels lucky to have survived. He went back to his law practice in Alabama.

Noojin learned that cancers related to HPV, which is sexually transmitted, are cloaked in shame and guilt.

He experienced this first-hand when his marriage fell apart during his recovery. His wife was traumatized by the difficult months of treatment, he said. In addition, she irrationally blamed herself for giving him the virus, even though he was probably exposed many years earlier. He tried to comfort her and dispel her guilt, but they eventually divorced.

“I was married over two decades, but I was married previously, and she was married previously,” he said. “It just makes no sense for any of this to have a stigma.”

An estimated 80 percent of America women and 90 percent of men contract HPV at some point in their lives, usually when they’re young and first become sexually active. But the cancers caused by HPV can take years to develop.

“It’s a virus. It’s not anybody’s fault,” Noojin said.

He echoed the public health experts in calling for an end to the silence and shame, and a shift to a focus on prevention.

“All of what I went through, and all of what hundreds of thousands of men, and women, because of cervical cancer – what they have gone through is avoidable for the next many generations … if we just got serious about making sure our kids get vaccinated.”

The series of three shots can be given as early as age nine, but must be completed before the age of 26 to be effective. Currently, the completion rate for young women in the U.S. is less than 50 percent. Among young men, it’s less than 30 percent. That’s why experts warn these particular cancers will still be a problem decades from now.

September, 2016|Oral Cancer News|

Unilateral radiation benefited patients with advanced tonsil cancer

Author: staff

Unilateral radiotherapy was associated with effective regional control in patients with advanced tonsil cancer, according to study results presented at the 2014 Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium. Additionally, the results supported previous findings that suggest the primary tumor location, not the extent of ipsilateral neck lymph node involvement on the tumor side of the neck, governs the disease risk in the contralateral side of the neck.

Researchers evaluated 153 consecutive patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil who were treated with surgical removal and postoperative intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

Forty-six of the patients underwent unilateral radiotherapy. Of these patients, 72% were male. The average patient age was 59 years. Current or former smokers comprised 61% of the study population.

Lateralized primary tumors were confirmed in 40 (87%) of the patients. Two (4%) patients had non-lateralized tumors. Lateralization could not be retrospectively ascertained in four patients (9%).

The cancer stages for these patients were distributed as follows: TX, 2%; T1, 44%; T2, 41%; and T3, 13%. Lymph node involvement stages were as follows: N0, 11%; N1, 13%; and N2, 76%.

The patients underwent radiation doses of 60 Gy to 66 Gy to the postoperative bed and involved neck, and 52 Gy to 54 Gy to the elective region in 30 to 33 fractions using a simultaneous integrated boost technique. Concurrent chemotherapy was administered to 30 of the 46 patients. The median follow-up period was 2.8 years (range, 0.4-8.7 years).

Researchers reported no local or regional recurrences. Four patients (9%) developed distant metastasis, and two developed second primary cancers.

The findings suggest that, for suitable patients, radiation volume can be safely reduced, sparing these patients adverse effects and potential toxicity, according to study investigator Wade Thorstad, MD, chief of head and neck cancer services and associate professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine.

“All treatments for cancer — surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy — although effective, can cause temporary and/or permanent toxicity that can affect long-term quality of life,” Thorstad said in a press release. “Our research indicates that for appropriately selected patients with tonsil cancer, the volume of radiation therapy necessary to control the cancer can be significantly reduced, therefore reducing the side effects and toxicity of radiation while maintaining a high rate of tumor control.”

March, 2014|Oral Cancer News|

Lymphoseek designated fast track status in head and neck cancer

Author: press release

Navidea announced that the FDA has granted Fast Track designation to Lymphoseek (technetium 99m tilmanocept) Injection for sentinel lymph node detection in patients with head and neck cancer. Lymphoseek Injection is a novel, receptor-targeted, small-molecule radiopharmaceutical designed to identify the lymph nodes that drain from a primary tumor, which have the highest probability of harboring cancer.

Lymposeek Injection was evaluated in a prospective, open-label, multicenter, within-patient study (NEO3-06). It was designed to identify sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) and determine the false negative rate (FNR) associated with Lymphoseek-identified SLNs relative to the pathological status of non-SLNs in head and neck and intraoral squamous cell carcinoma. The primary endpoint for the NEO3-06 trial was based on the number of subjects with pathology-positive lymph nodes following a multiple level lymph node dissection. A minimum of 38 subjects whose lymph nodes contained pathology-confirmed disease was required. Thirty nine subjects out of over 80 subjects enrolled were determined to have pathology-positive lymph nodes.

Navidea intends to file the supplemental New Drug Application (sNDA) for Lymphoseek before the end of 2013. Lymphoseek is already approved for use in lymphatic mapping to assist in the localization of lymph nodes draining a primary tumor in patients with breast cancer or melanoma.

December, 2013|Oral Cancer News|

PET/MRI detects head/neck lymph node metastases

Author: DrBicuspid Staff

PET/MRI outperformed diffusion-weighted MRI (DWI-MRI) for detecting lymph node metastases in the staging of head and neck cancer patients, according to a study presented November 25 at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting in Chicago.

Researchers from the University of Düsseldorf found that PET/MRI achieved accuracy of 93%, compared with 88% for DWI-MRI. PET/MRI also reached sensitivity of 72%, compared with 36% for DWI-MRI.

Lymph node status has prognostic value in head and neck cancer because patients with metastases need neck dissection and adjuvant treatment. Therefore, precise lymph node staging is a necessity, noted lead author Christian Buchbender, MD.

“Currently available imaging modalities are restricted in their diagnostic performance for lymph node metastases detection,” he added. “For example, CT and MRI fall short in sensitivity when compared to FDG-PET or FDG-PET/CT. On the other hand, FDG-PET/CT suffers from a large amount of false-positive results.”

Thus, new modalities or a combination of modalities are needed to improve lymph node metastases detection in these cancer patients, he said.

The prospective study included 14 head and neck cancer patients with a mean age of 67 years. Prior to surgery, the patients received both FDG-PET/CT and 3-tesla MRI, including diffusion-weighted imaging. The patients then underwent bilateral neck dissection.

Using image fusion software, the researchers created two sets of images. One set consisted of PET/MR images, which were created by fusing FDG-PET results with contrast-enhanced, T1-weighted, fat-saturated MR images. The second set consisted of DWI-MR images, created by fusing DWI results with T1-weighted, fat-saturated MR images.

Buchbender and colleagues then analyzed both sets of images for the presence of lymph node metastases and found that PET/MRI detected 26 (93%) of 28 lymph node metastases, compared with 20 (71%) detected by DWI-MRI.

“When we compared these results to available data on PET/CT, we found that PET/MRI pretty much equals the performance of PET/CT,” Buchbender added.

November, 2012|Oral Cancer News|

Facing the facts: HPV-associated head and neck cancers get a second look

Author: Charlotte Huff

Kevin Pruyne knew he didn’t fit the stereotype of a hard drinker or heavy smoker who one day develops an oral cancer.

The 52-year-old mechanic had been working a three-week stint in a remote section of northern Alaska, repairing trucks on an oil field, when he noticed a hard lump beneath his jaw while shaving. For nearly three months, as Pruyne was prescribed antibiotics for a possible infection and then later shuttled between physician specialists, he kept hearing the same thing: the lump could not be cancer.

Pruyne only occasionally consumed alcohol and had never smoked. His wife, Kathy, began researching her husband’s symptoms, which included repetitive throat clearing, a nagging sensation that something was lodged in his throat and ringing in his ears. And the lump, which looked like the top half of an egg, felt solid to the touch.

This wasn’t some inflamed lymph node from a lingering head cold, Kathy Pruyne says. “He had every symptom [of cancer], but nobody would listen to me.”

Pruyne received a diagnosis of stage 4 oral cancer, which started with a tumor at the base of his tongue. He had already begun chemotherapy when he learned that researchers had discovered an association between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and increasing rates of oropharyngeal cancers. He asked that his tissue be tested; the results came back positive. Pruyne says he wanted to know whether his cancer was caused by HPV because “the prognosis is considerably better with HPV-positive cancer.” He adds he “wanted to hear that there was a better chance of a cure.”

An Explosion of Cases

For researchers and clinicians alike, determining appropriate treatment has taken on new urgency: HPV-positive oropharyngeal malignancies—most typically found on the tonsils or at the base of the tongue—increased 225 percent from 1988 to 2004. If current trends continue, HPV-positive oral cancer cases could soon surpass cervical cancer diagnoses, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

As researchers have revisited data from prior oral cancer treatment studies, they’re realizing that patients with HPV-positive tumors respond better to chemotherapy and radiation. One study, which retrospectively analyzed treatment outcomes for stage 3 and stage 4 oropharyngeal patients based on their HPV status, found that the three-year overall survival rate was 82.4 percent in patients with HPV-positive tumors. Among those who tested negative, the three-year overall survival rate was 57.1 percent, according to the findings published in 2010 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

With that in mind, research trials are being launched to determine whether treatment can be modified in some way or even dialed back. The goal? To achieve the same survival with fewer of the swallowing difficulties, taste problems and other debilitating side effects.

“For a subset of patients, we’ve actually achieved a pretty high cure rate,” says James Rocco, MD, PhD, a head and neck surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and director of head and neck cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital. “And the question is: Can we maintain that cure and reduce some of the major side effects of treatment?”

But researchers and oncologists have only just begun to understand HPV-positive malignancies. “It’s very clear that HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer is a completely different entity from HPV-negative,” says Stephen Liu, MD, a head and neck cancer specialist, and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Southern California.

“We think that it’s going to impact treatment in the future,” Liu adds. But, he stresses, outside of a clinical trial, he “would really discourage anyone from receiving less treatment because their tumor is HPV-positive.”

Identifying the Virus

Traditionally, tobacco and alcohol use have been the primary culprits for triggering cancers in the oropharynx and nearby areas of the mouth, as well as other structures in the throat, such as the larynx. Each year, nearly 40,000 Americans develop cancer of the oral cavity or pharynx. Men are more than twice as likely to receive a diagnosis.

But, until recent years, not someone like David Hastings. The certified public accountant was 58 years old, a lean cyclist who rode some 100 miles each week, when he learned six years ago that he had stage 4 oropharyngeal cancer located at the base of his tongue. Clinicians at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla., also were puzzled, as the Gulfport resident tells it. “They said the typical oral cancer patient is a man in his 60s or 70s who sits in a bar all day and drinks and smokes.”

The association with HPV emerged from a perplexing conundrum, says Kian Ang, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of radiation oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. As cigarette smoking has declined in recent decades, so have head and neck cancers, with the exception of tumors in the oropharynx. (The region encompasses the middle section of the throat, along with the back portion of the tongue, the soft palate and the tonsils.) That statistical anomaly, Ang says, “gave us the first clue that something else might be going on.”


Starting with a pivotal study published in 2000, researchers began honing in on the role of HPV. Of the 150-plus strains in the HPV family, more than 40 are believed to be transmitted through sexual contact, including anal, genital and oral, according to the National Cancer Institute. The body’s immune system typically eradicates the viruses in a few years before any symptoms emerge (but, in some cases, the cells remain molecularly altered forever). Several of the HPV strains to date, most frequently HPV type 16, have been linked to oral malignancies.

Increasingly, HPV-16 has become a major player in those oral malignancies, according to last year’s Journal of Clinical Oncology study, which projected an explosion in cases in the decades to come.

When researchers studied 271 tissue samples in previously diagnosed patients, HPV prevalence was identified in only 16.3 percent of those collected between 1984 and 1989. Between 2000 and 2004, 72.7 percent of specimens tested positive, a trend that also perhaps correlates with population-wide increases in oral sex, the researchers wrote.

The analysis also highlighted survival differences. If tumors tested HPV-positive, the median survival was nearly 11 years versus 1.6 years for people whose tumors didn’t carry the virus.

Some of the strides in oral cancer treatment that physicians thought they were achieving can at least be partially explained by the emergence of a less aggressive form of cancer, Ang says. “The other part of the improvement,” he says, “is really due to the addition of chemotherapy and the use of high-precision radiation.”

Multifaceted Treatment

Cancers located in the tonsils or at the base of the tongue can sometimes spread undetected, not becoming visible until they’ve reached the nearby lymph nodes. Some early symptoms include swallowing difficulties or a sudden change or hoarseness in the voice. Like Pruyne, Hastings first became concerned when he felt a mysterious lump while shaving. “Totally painless, no sore throat—nothing,” he says.

Oropharyngeal tumors can be classified as stage 3 or 4 but still be considered localized, as long as they have not spread beyond lymph nodes and structures in the head and neck. Pruyne, whose cancer had migrated to numerous nodes on his neck’s right side, recalls how his oncologist hurried out of the room when his imaging test results became available.

The doctor had already warned Pruyne that he could offer relatively little help if the cancer had spread to his chest. “When he came back up, he was visibly relieved,” Pruyne recalls. “And he said, ‘Your lungs are clear.’”

To thwart oropharyngeal malignancies, cancer specialists may incorporate a mix of treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, depending upon the location and the aggressiveness of the tumor involved. Ang estimates that only about one-third of patients will undergo surgery. If the tumor can be removed and there’s no evidence that it’s spread to lymph nodes, radiation may not be needed, he says.


But if there’s any concern, patients may receive six weeks of radiation for smaller tumors and seven weeks for larger ones, Ang says. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is used because it better targets the radiation and thus can limit damage to the salivary glands, reducing dry mouth, as well as damage to other normal tissues, Ang says.

For larger and more aggressive tumors, adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy has been shown to extend survival. One meta-analysis published last year, based on 87 studies involving more than 16,000 patients, analyzed results by tumor location. Researchers found that the combination approach increased five-year overall survival by 8.1 percent in oropharyngeal patients compared with those who didn’t receive any chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy is believed to boost the effectiveness of the radiation, but at a cost—amplified side effects for the patient. The list of potential side effects is lengthy, with so many vulnerable structures and nerves packed into the head and neck area, Liu says. Patients can develop ulcers in their mouth and down their throat, he says. Their salivary glands can generate thick secretions that make it difficult to swallow and to eat.

“The ability to taste, to speak, to salivate,” says Liu, ticking off several more. “Dry mouth. These things can often be permanent. It’s a necessary evil right now because we do what we need to do to cure the cancer.”

Pruyne received two cycles of a cisplatin-based protocol that also included Taxotere (docetaxel) and 5-FU (fluorouracil). Then he started the biologic agent Erbitux (cetuximab) along with hefty doses of IMRT, delivered twice daily for six weeks.

Pruyne’s oncologist warned him that the treatment would be difficult, and it was. He endured radiation burns around the right side of his neck and had to use a feeding tube for two months.

Dialing Back

Although radiation and chemotherapy can be difficult, some patients prefer to take that route, rather than run the risks of surgery, Rocco says. “For advanced local disease, removing the back of the tongue or the soft palate has huge consequences for people,” Rocco says. “They can’t eat. They don’t speak so well.”

But given that patients with HPV-positive tumors are typically diagnosed at a younger age, with potentially decades ahead of them to cope with long-term side effects, the aggressiveness of today’s chemotherapy and radiation regimens are also questionable, he says.

Clinical trials are recruiting patients to answer a question that’s relatively rare in cancer: Can treatment be ramped down? One closely watched phase 3 trial will assess whether Erbitux works as well in HPV-positive patients as the long-standing cisplatin-based chemotherapy regimen.

Cisplatin has been one of the standard drugs used in head and neck cancer, but it’s “very toxic,” says Andy Trotti III, MD, the study’s principal investigator and director of radiation oncology clinical research at Moffitt Cancer Center. The platinum-based drug can impact kidney function and sometimes damage hearing, among other side effects, he says.

Erbitux, which targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), primarily affects the skin, Trotti says. In the phase 3 trial, now recruiting HPV-positive patients, the five-year overall survival of patients on Erbitux will be compared with those taking cisplatin. Both groups will receive IMRT.

Another ongoing trial is looking at whether the IMRT regimen can be shortened from six to five weeks, thereby delivering a lower dose of radiation in HPV-positive patients. The patients enrolled in that phase 2 trial, who also will receive cisplatin,  paclitaxel and Erbitux, will be followed for two years.

The study represents a “first step” toward learning whether less radiation can be safely prescribed for HPV-positive patients, Liu says. Since radiation’s effects are cumulative, the extra week of radiation adds “a significant amount of toxicity.”

A New Era in Treatment

Meanwhile, the impact of HPV status on surgical decisions appears to be the subject of some unresolved debate. Given that HPV-positive oropharyngeal malignancies respond well to chemotherapy and radiation, Trotti says, “there has been a real trend away from surgery.”

But new surgical techniques are providing other options for HPV-positive patients who might prefer to limit the long-term side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, says Bert O’Malley, Jr., MD, chairman of the department of otorhinolaryngology of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Along with a physician colleague, O’Malley has developed a robotic surgery protocol called TransOral Robotic Surgery. With the assistance of tiny robotic arms and three-dimensional cameras, O’Malley operates through the patient’s mouth, enabling him to remove difficult-to-reach tumors.

A surgery that previously required between six and 16 hours might only take two, he says. Also the approach results in less scarring and fewer surgical complications than the traditional surgery, which may require the jaw to be split, he says.

It’s a new era in HPV-positive treatment, Rocco says. To make his point, he tells of a patient who recently walked in asking to be referred for robotic surgery. The gold standard is still to wait for clinical trial results, but that could take five-plus years, he adds.

HPV-positive patients are frequently “savvy young professionals in the prime of life,” who sort through the latest research online, Rocco points out.

“There are people who are risk-takers,” he says. “They’ll look at the data, and they’ll make a decision, weighing cure and long-term side effects.”

Despite the rigors of treatment, Pruyne was able to resume his job near the Arctic Circle within a few months. He hopes to soon be telling a tale similar to Hastings’, who returned to his biking routine about a year after wrapping up treatment.

Hastings still copes with dry mouth and a reduced ability to taste. But the last time he visited Moffitt for an annual checkup, it felt more like a social call. After some chatting, he quips: “They said, ‘Get out of here. We need to spend more time with people who are sick.’”


Radiotherapy technique significantly reduces irradiation of healthy tissue

Author: staff

Researchers at the University of Granada and the university hospital Virgen de las Nieves in Granada have developed a new radiotherapy technique that is much less toxic than that traditionally used and only targets cancerous tissue. This new protocol provides a less invasive but equally efficient cancer postoperative treatment for cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx.

The study -conducted between 2005 and 2008- included 80 patients diagnosed with epidermoid cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, who had undergone lymph node removal. The affected nodes were located by the surgeon during the intervention and classified into different risk levels. Classification allowed physicians to target the areas at a higher risk of recurrence. This way, neck areas at a lower risk of containing residual cancer cells were not irradiated. Researchers achieved both to minimize the side effects of radiotherapy, and to reduce treatment discontinuation, thus achieving the therapy to be more effective.

A Highly Toxic Treatment
Over 70% of oral and pharynx cancer treated with surgery require supplementary treatment with radiotherapy occasionally associated to chemotherapy, because of the high risk for recurrence and spread through the lymph nodes. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are highly toxic, mainly due to the ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the oral cavity; toxicity leads may patients to stop the treatment, which significantly reduces the chances of cure.

By using the risk map obtained with the collaboration of the surgeon and the pathologist, an individualized treatment was designed and adapted to the specific risk level of recurrence in each neck area. The volume of tissue irradiated was significantly smaller than that usually irradiated with traditional techniques.

This trial was led by the radiation oncologist at the university hospital Virgen de las Nieves, Miguel Martínez Carrillo, and conducted in collaboration with the Services of Radiation Oncology, Medical Physics, Maxillofacial Surgery and Pathology of the university hospital Virgen de las Nieves, and the University of Granada Department of Radiology and Physical Medicine

After a three-year follow up, using this new technique, scientists achieved to reduce the volume of irradiated tissue in 44% of patients. By this new technique, irradiation of an average volume of 118 cc of tissue was avoided. A total of 95% of patients completed radiotherapy and presented significantly lower toxicity than patients treated with the traditional technique. Recurrence rates did not increase.

This study was coordinated by University of Granada professors Rosario del Moral Ávila and José Mariano Ruiz de Almodóvar Rivera. The results of this study will be published in the next issue of the journal Radiation Oncology.

Source: University of Granada

February, 2012|Oral Cancer News|

To see or not to see

Author: JoAnn R. Gurenlian

From the National Journal fro Dental Hygiene Professionals:

Allow me to relay the experience of a patient who has been through trying times lately. The patient is a middle-age female who noticed a small, firm swelling in the right submandibular region. She had never experienced this type of problem before, but since she had an upcoming visit with her family physician, she thought she would mention it. Her family provider told her it appeared to be a swollen lymph node and recommended she schedule an appointment with her dentist in the event that she had an oral infection.

Being conscientious about health issues, this patient did have an examination with her dentist. He advised her that it was a swollen lymph node, but that there were no apparent oral health infections. He reviewed causes of swollen lymph nodes and felt that since she was asymptomatic; the node simply represented residual effects from a cold or allergy condition.

Over the course of the next year, this patient presented on several occasions to both her family physician and dentist with concerns that the lymph node was getting larger. Both health care providers told her to “forget about it,” or “it was nothing.” She felt uncertain about both individuals at this point, but since they seemed to be in agreement that her condition “was nothing,” she heeded their advice.

After several more months and with ever growing concern, the patient presented to her dentist again for further evaluation. At this point, he expressed the opinion that the patient appeared to be “looking for trouble that wasn’t there.” She went to the reception area and commented on that, but paid her bill and proceeded to leave the office. As she was walking to her car, the office receptionist approached her. She stated that since this was a problem that had persisted for over one year, she thought the patient should get a second opinion. The receptionist did not want to get in trouble, but felt that she needed to reinforce the concept of a second opinion. After all, if after a second opinion, this problem truly turned out to be “nothing,” the patient could rest easy.

After hearing this advice, the patient phoned a university in Philadelphia and asked to have an appointment scheduled. She described her problem, and the telephone operator scheduled an appointment for her to see the head of the ear, nose, and throat department of the university. During her appointment with this specialist, the patient described her concern that the node was growing. She denied other symptoms or problems, but explained that she was worried that there was more than “nothing” with this condition.

The patient related that the specialist took one look at her lymph node swelling and told her she was going straight for a biopsy and to an oncologist. Turns out she had stage 4 lymphoma. Since February 2011, she has been on a rigorous course of treatment and still has six more months of chemotherapy to complete. Remarkably, her most recent PET scan showed that she was cancer-free, and her prognosis is good.

So let’s take a moment and think about the lessons we can learn from this patient’s experience. The first thing that comes to mind is that we need to listen, really listen, when our patients present to us with an abnormal finding. This patient was pooh-poohed rather than reassured. There was no effort made to encourage her to see a specialist or have a biopsy. The lesion did not appear to be aggressive in nature.

We have seen the literature that discourages the use of adjunctive screening devices as part of the oral cancer examination, because these devices do not appear to be better than a conventional oral examination. We have seen the literature that warns we should not be using adjunctive devices because we don’t want to alarm our patients that they might have cancer.

However, this case is different. The patient was already alarmed.

Would our role in this situation be to alleviate the patient’s concern or identify the problem? The patient was delighted to have somebody hear her concern and perform a biopsy. She wanted to be reassured that either this problem was truly nothing or was something, and she would receive appropriate treatment. Instead, this process was delayed for one full year while her cancer spread.

A question for us to consider is what harm would have been done if a biopsy had been recommended when the patient first presented with this condition? She was already alarmed. She wanted to know what was wrong. She would have been relieved to have a confirmed diagnosis. Many of our patients feel this way, even if recommending a biopsy seems frightening. The mere idea of a biopsy can be anxiety-producing. But, knowing vs. not knowing is also anxiety-producing. At what point do we reconcile within ourselves that the best course of action is to biopsy? Why guess when we can confirm?

Mind you, there is no need to play the blame game here. This patient has not spent her time on that as much as focusing on getting well. The health care providers who examined her did not feel there was cause for concern. The patient did not present with obvious symptomatology other than the node. Many people walk around with swollen lymph nodes, and they don’t have cancer. An educated guess was made. Unfortunately, for this one person, the guess was wrong.

Take a moment and ask yourself what is your position on this situation? Would you have gone along with the provider’s recommendation to “forget about it” or would you have recommended taking action?

I ask this question because the patient asked me to ask you. She wanted her story relayed because she feels that action needs to be taken immediately when a patient presents with this type of condition. Her story seems to be ending well, but what about the others for whom diagnosis is delayed until it is too late?

Her message to you is to take a chance and recommend referral for biopsy. If the lesion turns out to be “nothing” or benign, that is perfectly fine. If there is a problem, it is identified early and the patient stands a chance of surviving. And that is so much better than worrying for one year and then finding out a diagnosis of advanced cancer.

I want to hear your stories about this type of situation. It is important for all of us to realize that we can make a significant difference by taking immediate action. Also, it is important for us to recognize that going against the prevailing point of view is not always easy, but sometimes very necessary.

About the author:
JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian& Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and interim dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, adjunct faculty at Burlington County College and Montgomery County College, and president-elect of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

February, 2012|Oral Cancer News|

Small atypical cervical nodes detected on sonography in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck

Source: Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine
Author: Staff

Probability of Metastasis

Heung Cheol Kim, MD, Dae Young Yoon, MD, Suk Ki Chang, MD, Heon Han, MD, So Jung Oh, MD,Jin Hwan Kim, MD, Young-Soo Rho, MD, Hwoe Young Ahn, MD, Keon Ha Kim, MD andYoon Cheol Shin, MD

Department of Radiology, Kangwon National University College of Medicine, Chuncheon, Korea (H.C.K., H.H.); Department of Radiology, Chuncheon Sacred Heart Hospital, Hallym University College of Medicine, Chuncheon, Korea (H.C.K.); Departments of Radiology (D.Y.Y., S.K.C.) and Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery (S.J.O., J.H.K., Y.-S.R., H.Y.A.), Ilsong Memorial Institute of Head and Neck Cancer, and Department of Thoracic Surgery (Y.C.S.), Kangdong Seong-Sim Hospital, Hallym University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea; and Department of Radiology, Samsung Medical Center, Sungkyunkwan University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea (K.H.K.).

Address correspondence to Dae Young Yoon, MD, Department of Radiology, Ilsong Memorial Institute of Head and Neck Cancer, Kangdong Seong-Sim Hospital, Hallym University College of Medicine, 445 Gil-dong, Kangdong-gu, Seoul 134-701, Korea. E-mail:

Objective. The purpose of this study was to assess the probability of metastasis of small atypical cervical lymph nodes detected on sonography in patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck. Methods. We reviewed, retrospectively and blindly, sonographic findings of 148 patients (118 men and30 women; mean age, 58.2 years) who underwent curative neck dissection. Each lymph node was classified by using a 4-point scale: 1, definitely benign; 2, indeterminate (small [short-axis diameter <10 mm for levels I and II and <7 mm for levels III–VI] atypical node); 3, definitely metastatic; and 4, large (>3-cm) metastatic. Lymph nodes were considered atypical if they met at least 1 of the following criteria: a long- to short-axis diameter ratio of less than 2.0, absence of a normal echogenic hilum, and heterogeneous echogenicity of the cortex. These results were verified, on a level-by-level basis, with histopathologic findings.Results. Small atypical nodes were found on sonography in 63 cervical levels of 48 patients, of which 18 (28.6%) were proved to have metastatic nodes. Theprobability of metastasis was significantly higher with than without a large (>3-cm) ipsilateral metastatic node (0.50 versus 0.20; P = .038) and marginally higher with than without an ipsilateral metastatic node (0.41 versus 0.16; P = .061) but not significantly associated with the T stage of the primary tumor (P = .238) or the presence of an ipsilateral tumor (P = .904). Conclusions. Metastasis was encountered in about 30% of small atypical cervical nodes on sonography in patients with SCC of the head and neck. Our results indicate that small atypical nodes must be interpreted with consideration of metastatic nodes in the ipsilateral neck.

Key Words: head and neck • lymph node • metastasis • sonography • squamous cell carcinoma

Abbreviations: L/S, long- to short-axis diameter • SCC, squamous cell carcinoma

April, 2010|Oral Cancer News|

Incidental detection of an occult oral malignancy with autofluorescence imaging: a case report

Source: Head Neck Oncol, October 28, 2009; 1(1): 37
Author: Nadarajah Vigneswaran, Sheila Koh, and Ann Gillenwater

Autofluorescence imaging is used widely for diagnostic evaluation of malignances of various epithelial malignancies. Cancerous lesions display loss of autofluorescence due to malignant changes in epithelium and subepithelial stroma. Carcinoma of unknown primary site presents with lymph node or distant metastasis, for which the site of primary tumor is not detectable. We describe here the use of autofluorescence imaging for detecting a clinically innocuous appearing occult malignancy of the palate which upon pathological examination was consistent with a metastatic squamous cell carcinoma.

Case Description:
A submucosal nodule was noted on the right posterior hard palate of a 59-year-old white female during clinical examination. Examination of this lesion using a multispectral oral cancer screening device revealed loss of autofluorescence at 405 nm illumination. An excisional biopsy of this nodule, confirmed the presence of a metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. Four years ago, this patient was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the right mid-jugular lymph node of unknown primary. She was treated with external beam irradiation and remained disease free until current presentation.

This case illustrates the important role played by autofluorescence tissue imaging in diagnosing a metastatic palatal tumor that appeared clinically innocuous and otherwise would not have been biopsied.

November, 2009|Oral Cancer News|

Does the negative node count affect disease-free survival in early-stage oral cavity cancer?

Source: J Oral Maxillofac Surg, November 1, 2009; 67(11): 2473-5
Authors: FL Ampil, G Caldito, GE Ghali, and RG Baluna

We performed a retrospective study to determine whether there is a relationship between disease-free survival and negative lymph node count in patients with resected early-stage oral cavity cancers.

Materials and Methods:
Of the 526 individuals diagnosed with carcinoma of the oral cavity between 1998 and 2005, 52 had undergone primary tumor resection and lymph node dissection of the neck for stage I or II disease. With a mean count of 27 examined negative nodes, these 52 patients were separated into groups with fewer than 27 or > or = 27 uninvolved lymph nodes and compared for disease-free survival.

The tumor recurred or progressed in 10 patients (19%) during a median follow-up of 27 months. The 2-year disease-free survival rates were 75% and 78% in individuals with fewer than 27 and > or = 27 uninvolved node counts, respectively (P > .78).

The removal of a greater number of regional, uninvolved cervical lymph nodes does not correlate with disease-free survival in this particular cohort of patients.

Authors’ affiliation:
Division of Therapeutic Radiology, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA 71130, USA

October, 2009|Oral Cancer News|