Lymphatic mapping and sentinel node identification in squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma of the head and neck

Girolamo Tartaglione, C. Potenza, A. Caggiati, M. Maggiore, F. Gabrielli, E. Migliano, M. Pagan, F. Concolino, P. Ruatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: The aim of our study was to evaluate the role of scintigraphy in lymphatic mapping and in the identification of the sentinel lymph node (SLN) in patients with head and neck cancer. Methods: Between September 1999 and February 2001 we enrolled 22 consecutive patients with cancer in the head and neck region: five squamous cell carcinomas, one Merkel cell tumor of the cheek, and 16 malignant melanomas. Lymphoscintigraphy was performed three hours before surgery after injection of 30-50 MBq of 99mTc-Nanocoll in 0.3 mL; the dose was fractionated by injecting the radiotracer at two points around the lesion. Static acquisition (anterior and/or lateral views, 512 x 512 matrix, 5 mins pre-set time) was started immediately after the injections so as to visualize the pathways of lymphatic drainage. The skin projection of the SLN was marked with ink. Intraoperative SLN detection was performed with perilesional injection of patent blue. Results: SLNs were found with lymphoscintigraphy in all patients. Thirty-three SLNs were identified: one occipital node, three nodes at the base of the tongue, 10 superficial lateral nodes (external jugular), five submandibular nodes, five submental nodes, three mastoid nodes and six supraclavicular nodes. Biopsy was performed in 21/22 patients. In 20/22 patients the first lymph nodes were visualized in the proximal cranial regions (retroauricular, jugular and submandibular) at five minutes post injection. The SLN positivity rate was 13.6% (three patients). All patients with tumor-positive SLNs were submitted to radical dissection. Poor concordance in the detection of sentinel nodes was observed with patent blue. Conclusions: The flow of nanocolloid in the lymph vessels of the head is rapid. In our experience immediate scintigraphic imaging was essential to visualize the pathways of lymphatic drainage and the first SLN. Radioguided SLN biopsy is therefore recommended within three hours. Injection of patent blue is inadvisable because of the poor concordance with lymphoscintigraphy and the risk of permanent tattooing of the face.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Head and neck
  • Lymphoscintigraphy
  • Malignant melanoma
  • Sentinel node
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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