Objective: To clarify the role of neck dissection following primary radiotherapy for treatment of squamous cell carcinoma of the base of tongue. Design: Case series. Setting: Academic, tertiary care medical center. Patients or Other Participants: A consecutive series of 45 patients with biopsy-proven squamous cell carcinoma of the base of tongue and cervical metastases treated with primary radiotherapy at The University of California, San Francisco, was examined. Patients with a prior history of neck irradiation, neck dissection, or head and neck cancer within 5 years were excluded. Main Outcome Measures: Overall survival and regional control. Results: Of the 45 patients treated with definitive radiotherapy, 25 (56%) achieved a complete response, 13 (29%) achieved a partial response, 4 (9%) were nonresponders, and 3 (7%) did not complete radiotherapy. Two thirds of the complete responders had N2 or N3 disease; 3 had recurrences in the neck, 1 of which was an isolated neck recurrence. Of the 13 partial responders, 5 had isolated persistence of disease, with 4 undergoing neck dissections. The only long-term survivors among the partial responders were those 4 who underwent a neck dissection. Overall survival was 50% at 3 years and 32% at 5 years. Regional control for complete responders was 84% at 5 years. Conclusions: The low rate of isolated regional recurrence in patients with a complete response to radiotherapy supports the practice of surveillance alone in such patients. Patients with less than a complete response appear to benefit from prompt surgical salvage.
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