Oncologic rationale for bilateral tonsillectomy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma of unknown primary source

W M Koch, N Bhatti, M F Williams, D W Eisele
Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery 2001, 124 (3): 331-3

OBJECTIVE: To demonstrate an oncologic basis for the recommendation to perform bilateral tonsillectomy as a routine measure in the search for a primary mucosal lesion in patients presenting with cervical nodal metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

STUDY DESIGN: A case series of individuals selected from a 3-year period is reported.

SETTING: Academic medical center.

RESULTS: Each individual presented with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma in a cervical lymph node from an unknown primary source. In each case, the primary source was identified in a tonsillectomy specimen, either located contralateral to the node, or in both tonsils.

CONCLUSIONS: The rate of contralateral spread of metastatic cancer from occult tonsil lesions appears to approach 10%. For this reason, bilateral tonsillectomy is recommended as a routine step in the search for the occult primary in patients presenting with cervical metastasis of SCC and palatine tonsils intact.

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