The demonstration of metastatic involvement of neck nodes is a crucial step in the staging of patients with head and neck tumors. Diagnostic accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity of US in the detection of lymph node metastases were evaluated in 48 patients with this type of malignancy. The patients subsequently underwent surgical node dissection. Comparison of US, clinical and histological data demonstrated US to have 93.7% diagnostic accuracy, 100% sensitivity, and 84% specificity--the corresponding clinical values being 81%, 79%, and 84%, respectively. Among several US parameters, a substantial role in differentiating metastatic from tumor-free lymph nodes was played by the evaluation of roundness index (RI), and by the demonstration of an intranodal hyperechoic stria: RI value was always higher than 2 in tumor-free nodes and the hyperechoic stria was always absent in metastatic nodes. US approach never failed to demonstrate metastatic nodes while clinics missed them in 6 patients. Thus, US appears the most valuable diagnostic tool for staging head and neck tumors; its diagnostic accuracy can be increased by the combination with US-guided aspiration biopsy.
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