Objectives: Whether to perform elective neck dissection (END) or apply the observation (OBS) policy in patients with early-stage oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) without clinical evidence of cervical lymph node metastasis (cT1/T2N0) remains uncertain. The two most recent meta-analyses include many studies published before the widespread availability of CT scanning in the 1990s. With the rapid advancement in imaging studies since 1990, the early clinical detection of cervical node metastasis has become more reliable without the need for END or pathological staging. Thus, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies comparing survival outcomes between END and OBS in patients with cT1/T2N0 OSCC. Methods: We performed a systematic search of MEDLINE, PubMed, and Scopus for retrospective and prospective studies published between January 1, 1990, and January 1, 2018, comparing clinical outcomes between END and OBS in patients with cT1/T2N0 OSCC. Information on population characteristics, study design, overall survival (OS), disease-specific survival (DSS), and disease-free survival (DFS) was extracted and estimated. Effect measures for outcomes were hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Results: Thirteen retrospective and two prospective randomized studies (3,158 patients) met the inclusion criteria. Compared to OBS, END failed to significantly improve OS (HR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.95–1.09; P =.77; fixed-effects model), DSS (HR, 1.07; CI, 1.02–1.13; P =.31; fixed-effects model), and DFS (HR, 0.86; CI, 0.72–1.01; P =.12; random-effects model). Conclusions: Our findings indicate that in patients with cT1T2N0 OSCC, the OBS policy can yield markedly similar OS, DSS, and DFS to those resulting from END. Level of Evidence: 2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)554-561
Number of pages8
JournalLaryngoscope investigative otolaryngology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2019


  • elective neck dissection
  • observation
  • Oral cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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