Number of lymph nodes to determine head and neck cancer prognosis

Number of lymph nodes to determine head and neck cancer prognosis

A new set of guidelines have been implemented when assessing the severity of head and neck cancers based on the number of lymph nodes, which will help predict patient survival and level of treatment required.

The study from Cedars-Sinai, a non-profit hospital in Los Angeles, US, has provided the new guidelines to help improve overall treatment of those with head and neck cancers by counting the number of lymph nodes found in each patient.

For decades doctors have determined the progression of these cancers based on nodal size, location and how far they have spread, but the number of cancerous nodes has been given less significance.

This has resulted in treatment and staging recommendations that are only based on current national guidelines, meaning a patient with a low number of nodes would be given the same treatment as those with double the amount.

Lead author of the study and director of the Head and Neck Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, Allen S Ho, MD, said: “The greater the number of malignant lymph nodes, the less favourable the patients’ chances of survival.”
Ho added: “This new approach could dramatically simplify staging systems.”

Replacing the old method

Under the new system, patients are separated into similarly sized groups with distinct outcomes.

According to Zachary S Zumsteg, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Cedars-Sinai and senior author on the study, the method “demonstrated a better way to assess cancer severity, which will improve our ability to predict outcomes and give patients more personalised treatment”.

Where can head and neck cancers be found?

Head and neck cancers can occur in the following areas:

• Lips;
• Tongue;
• Gums;
• Bottom of the mouth;
• Throat;
• Larynx;
• Nasal cavity; and
• Salivary glands.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

This comes after another recent study found a link between depression and a shorter survival rate in those with head and neck cancers.

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