High rate of unexpected lymphatic drainage patterns and a high accuracy of the sentinel lymph node biopsy in oral cancer after previous neck treatment

Inne J. den Toom, Koos Boeve, Stijn van Weert, Elisabeth Bloemena, Adrienne H. Brouwers, Otto S. Hoekstra, Bart de Keizer, Bert van der Vegt, Stefan M. Willems, C. Rene Leemans, Max J. H. Witjes, Remco de Bree*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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RATIONALE: This study evaluates the lymphatic drainage patterns and determines the accuracy of the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) in patients diagnosed with a cT1-2N0 OSCC and a history of neck surgery or radiotherapy in three Dutch head and neck centers.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Retrospective analysis of 53 cT1-2N0 OSCC patients, who underwent SLNB between 2007 and 2016, after a history of neck surgery or radiotherapy. Ten patients had previous treatment of the neck only contralateral from the current tumour. These ten patients were not used for the analysis of lymphatic drainage patterns. The 43 patients with previous ipsilateral or bilateral treatment of the neck had a history of ipsilateral SLN extirpation (n = 9; 21%), neck dissection (n = 16; 37%), radiotherapy (n = 10; 23%), or combined neck dissection and radiotherapy (n = 8; 19%).

RESULTS: SLNs were detected in 45 patients, resulting in an identification rate of 85% (45/53). Three patients (7%) had at least one positive SLN. One patient (1/45; 2%) was diagnosed with regional recurrence during the follow-up after a negative SLNB (sensitivity 75%, negative predictive value 98%). The first SLN was detected in level I-III in 58% of the patients, unexpected drainage patterns were observed in 30% (first SLN level IV 9% and level V 5% and contralateral neck in well-lateralized tumours 16%). In 12% no lymphatic drainage pattern was visible.

CONCLUSIONS: SLNB seems to be a reliable procedure for neck staging of cT1-2N0 OSCC patients with a previously treated neck. SLNB determines the individual lymphatic drainage patterns, enabling visualization of unexpected drainage pattern variability in 30% of these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-72
Number of pages5
JournalOral Oncology
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2019


  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Lymph node metastases
  • Oral cancer
  • Second primary
  • Recurrence
  • Neck treatment
  • HEAD

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