Background. Because of the impact of nodal status on treatment and survival in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, accurate staging of cervical lymph nodes is critical. This article explores the value of molecular analyses in the detection of cervical lymph node metastasis. Methods. A review of the literature was carried out and combined with our own experience regarding the role of molecular analyses in detecting cervical lymph node metastasis. Results. Few studies have demonstrated the diagnostic and prognostic relevance of molecular analysis in detecting tumor cells in lymph nodes. Nodal staging was improved by the use of molecular techniques; when compared with histopathologic examination, however, the small sample size of these studies did not allow definitive conclusions. Conclusions. Molecular analysis is exquisitely sensitive in detecting very small cancer deposits within lymph nodes. It provides an oncologic basis that may be used to guide therapy and influence outcomes. It should be recommended for diagnostic use in controlled studies of patients without evidence of lymph node metastasis on routine hematoxylin-eosin-stained sections. The clinical significance of these types of metastases, however, must be determined with carefully designed and controlled prospective clinical trials. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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