Int J Clin Oncol (2014) 19:423–430 DOI 10.1007/s10147-014-0689-z


Current status of oral cancer treatment strategies: surgical treatments for oral squamous cell carcinoma Ken Omura

Received: 14 March 2014 / Published online: 1 April 2014 Ó Japan Society of Clinical Oncology 2014

Abstract The primary treatment modality of oral cancer is generally determined according to the stage of the disease, with surgical treatment remaining the mainstay of multimodal treatment. When selecting the treatment, many factors are taken into consideration, and the treatment should be tailored individually to the patient’s needs and consider the quality of life as well as the survival of the patient. Early-stage disease is primarily managed with surgery or brachytherapy without functional morbidity, whereas for advanced-stage disease multidisciplinary treatment is recommended, not only for enhanced survival but also for improved quality of life. After resection of large primary tumors, reconstructive surgery is required. Free tissue transfer currently represents one of the most popular and reliable techniques for oral reconstruction. For cN0 neck, elective neck dissection is recommended when the risk of occult metastases is [20 %, when the neck is entered either for resection of the primary tumor or for reconstruction, or when the patient is unlikely to return for a close follow-up. Sentinel node biopsy is performed investigationally. Modified radical neck dissection is the gold standard for cN? neck. For patients with multiple node metastases or extracapsular spread, postoperative radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy is recommended, with the lymph nodes situated outside the confines of the radical neck dissection, such as the lingual and retropharyngeal nodes, receiving considerable attention. Targeted therapy for oral cancer is still a relatively new concept, and more

K. Omura (&) Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Graduate School, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan e-mail: [email protected]

studies are needed to confirm the clinical effectiveness of these drugs. Keywords Multidisciplinary treatment  Postoperative chemoradiotherapy  Quality of life

Introduction The oral cavity is the uppermost part of the aerodigestive tract. The oral cavity begins at the lips, and ends at the anterior surface of the faucial arch. It is lined by squamous cell epithelium with interspersed minor salivary glands. The oral cavity can be subdivided into 5 sites: the tongue, floor of the mouth, maxillary/mandibular gingiva, buccal mucosa (including the retromolar trigone), and hard palate. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, accounting for approximately 4 % of all cancer cases. The incidence and mortality from the disease vary geographically. In Japan, 7,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and it accounts for 1 % of all cancers. According to data from the Japanese oral cancer registry, the tongue is the most commonly affected site, followed by the gingiva, buccal mucosa, and floor of the mouth, whereas lip cancer accounts for only 1 % of all oral cancers. Histologically, more than 90 % of the tumors are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), followed by adenoid cystic carcinoma and mucoepidermoid carcinoma [1]. The primary treatment modality of oral cancer is determined according to the stage of the disease, and surgical treatment remains the mainstay of multimodal treatment. Therefore, accurate staging based on the findings of the physical examination and imaging studies is required. Recent advances in modern technology have provided various imaging modalities, such as computed tomography



(CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasonography, and positron emission tomography (PET)-CT. Of these, CT and MRI are primarily recommended to assess the locoregional disease. Moreover, at staging of the disease, endoscopic examination of the upper digestive tract is also recommended, as 7 % of oral cancer patients reportedly have a concomitant second primary lesion in this area [2, 3]. The most important functions of the oral cavity are mastication, deglutition, maintenance of oral competency, and articulation of speech. Therefore, when choosing the treatment modality, many factors must be taken into consideration and the treatment should be tailored individually to each patient’s needs in order to ensure good quality of life as well as favorable survival. In this review, the surgical management of oral SCC is discussed for each of the 5 sites.

Surgical management of primary tumors The ultimate aim of surgical resection is adequate clearance of tumor tissue. Inadequate clearance of tumor cells results in increased risks of local and regional recurrences, and decreased long-term survival rates [4]. However, in oral SCC, increasing the resection margins may result in increased esthetic and functional morbidities. In oral cancer surgery, three-dimensional 1-cm resection margins are considered acceptable [5–7], and in primary tumor resection, vital staining with iodine solution is recommended as an adjunct, in order to detect and delineate the dysplastic epithelium accompanying the cancerous lesion [8–10]. After resection of the primary tumor, reconstructive surgery is usually required to restore oral function and cosmetic appearance. The most appropriate reconstruction method is determined by many factors, including the characteristics of the primary site and defects, the general medical condition and social history of the patient, the prognosis, and the skills of the surgeon. The methods of reconstruction usually follow a ‘‘reconstructive ladder,’’ beginning from a skin graft to a microvascular free flap. Free tissue transfers currently represent one of the most popular and reliable techniques for oral reconstruction. There are various free flap options available; however, there is currently no single flap that can resolve the entire spectrum of oral defects [11, 12].

Tongue The tongue is the most commonly affected site of oral tumors, accounting for 60 % of all oral cancers [1]. Within this site, the majority of tumors occur on the lateral borders and ventral surface.


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Small tumors (stage T1 and early-T2 tumors: tumors \3 cm in diameter) can be managed by partial glossectomy if the resection does not substantially involve the floor of the mouth. Partial glossectomy may be performed in a horizontal spindle fashion, resulting in the defect becoming primarily closed, with a functionally excellent and normal-shaped tongue. Large tumors may require hemiglossectomy or subtotal or total glossectomy. Hemiglossectomy defects can be reconstructed with a radial forearm free flap, with acceptable speech and swallowing functions [13], whereas subtotal or total glossectomy defects may need to be convexly reconstructed with an anterolateral thigh or rectus abdominis free flap. Convex reconstruction of large glossectomy defects may be essential for acceptable postoperative functions [14–16]. When the resection extends to the tongue base and/or lateral pharyngeal wall, a mandibular swing or visor flap with the mandibular lingual releasing approach may be required to gain access to these regions. Reconstruction of large glossectomy defects usually needs to be accompanied by procedures aimed at preventing postoperative aspiration, such as laryngeal suspension, laryngoplasty, and cricopharyngeal myotomy [17, 18].

Floor of the mouth The floor of the mouth is a relatively common site for oral cancer, with approximately 10 % of all oral cancers developing at this site. Within the site, the majority of tumors arise in the anterior portion [1]. Small tumors arising at the anterior floor of the mouth are commonly excised in conjunction with the ventral surface of the tongue [19], and the submandibular ducts may be included in the surgical specimen for fear of possible tumor extension along the duct. The stump of the duct needs to be repositioned at the margin of resection, and any surgical defects can generally be reconstructed with a split thickness skin graft (STSG). The tumor may deeply invade the floor of the mouth and abut to the mandible [20]. In such situations, wide local excision of the tumor in conjunction with rim resection of the mandible may need to be carried out. In general, any defects can be satisfactorily reconstructed with a radial forearm free flap. When the mandible is resected segmentally, the reconstruction can be achieved with a free compound flap, such as fibula osteocutaneous and scapula osteocutaneous flaps. In some cases of advanced-stage disease, considering the patient’s age and poor prognosis, the mandibular defects may be reconstructed with a titanium mandibular reconstruction plate and the soft tissue defects may be restored with a free rectus abdominis flap wrapping around the plate to avoid extrusion of the plate [21–23].

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Buccal mucosa The buccal mucosa is the most common site for oral cancer in South-east Asia, accounting for up to 40 % of oral cancers there. However, in Japan, as well as in North America and Western Europe, it accounts for only approximately 10 % [1]. T1 and T2 tumors can be excised perorally, with the buccinator muscle usually being included at the deep margin [24]. When the parotid duct is included in the surgical specimen, the stump is repositioned if possible. Surgical defects can be primarily closed in some selected patients; however, STSG or a mucosal graft is usually required to secure postoperative mouth opening. Large buccal tumors require a lower cheek flap approach, and are excised together with the buccal fat pad and maxilla and/or mandible. Microvascular free flap reconstruction with a radial forearm or anterolateral thigh flap is used to restore the thickness of the cheek [25]. Large tumors often require a through-and-through resection of the cheek. In such cases, the defects can be reconstructed with a bi-paddled and folded flap, resurfacing the skin and mucosal defects [26].

Retromolar trigone The retromolar trigone is a relatively unusual site for carcinomas of the oral cavity, accounting for only 3 % of all oral cancers. Small tumors of the retromolar trigone may be resected perorally. However, a lower cheek flap approach or mandibular swing approach is often required, because of its posterior location and the frequent extension of the tumor into adjacent sites [27, 28]. Even if the mandible shows no radiological signs of involvement, a posterior marginal resection of the mandible may be performed to achieve clear margins. These tumors may require extended surgery, including of the mandible, maxilla, soft palate, tongue base, and buccal mucosa. Moreover, these tumors may require careful considerations on reconstruction, as the defects may be both extensive and highly complex, and may occasionally cause trismus. In such situations, dual free flaps may provide ideal soft tissue and bony reconstruction. However, these are associated with an increased risk of complications.

Maxillary gingiva and hard palate Maxillary gingival carcinoma accounts for 6 % of all oral cancers, making it approximately half as common as mandibular gingival cancer. Carcinomas of the hard palate


are relatively rare, accounting for only 3 % of all oral cancers [1]. Small tumors arising in the maxillary gingiva may be amenable to transoral wide excision with resection of the involved mucoperiosteum and the underlying bone. Surgical defects are usually restored with a maxillary prosthesis. In some cases, surgical closure of defects may be achieved with a local flap, such as a palatal flap and buccal fat pad. However, large tumors may require partial or subtotal maxillectomy using an upper cheek flap approach. These maxillary tumors often extend posteriorly to the pterygoid region. In such cases, a pterygoid dissection may be required in conjunction with the maxillectomy. On the other hand, soft tissue defects require lining with an STSG for good restoration with a maxillary prosthesis. For more posteriorly and/or superiorly extending tumors, a subciliary incision may be combined with Ferguson’s incision to access the infratemporal fossa. In such cases, the extended surgical defects can be reconstructed with a free rectus abdominis flap.

Mandibular gingiva Mandibular gingival carcinoma represents 12 % of all oral cancers [1]. Mandibular gingival tumors may easily enter into the mandibular bone, mainly through the periodontal space and cortical deficiencies in dentate non-irradiated and edentulous mandibles, respectively. Moreover, the tumors occasionally spread along the periosteum [29–31]. There is some controversy regarding the T4 criteria of mandibular gingival cancer. The TNM classification of the UICC defines T4 tumors as tumors invading through the cortical bone, whereas, according to the level of mandibular canal criteria, which are widely accepted in Japan, T4 tumors are defined as tumors involving the level of the mandibular canal [32]. In surgery for lower gingival cancer, one of the most critical issues is whether marginal resection is adequate or not [33–39]. The type of mandibulectomy is decided clinically, and is based on the T-stage and radiological pattern of bone resorption. Radiologically, mandibular bone resorption is divided into two types: erosive and invasive [40]. The erosive type is defined as a defect showing sharply outlined U-shaped excavation. Histologically, tumors of this type usually show an expansive pattern of bone involvement, and the margins of the destroyed mandible are well defined and smooth. A small amount of connective tissue can generally be seen between the tumor and bone. The invasive type is defined as defects showing irregular and ill-defined bone margins. This type of tumor is often accompanied by widening of the mandibular canal. Histologically, the majority of tumors of this type show an infiltrative pattern



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Neck node management It is well known that the cervical lymph node status is one of the most important prognostic factors for oral SCCs. Currently, neck dissection is the only accepted standard treatment for cervical node metastases. For the past several decades, surgical treatment of cervical node metastases has consisted of radical neck dissection (RND). Since then, RND has been modified in various ways to reduce postoperative morbidity, and has given rise to several different types of neck dissections [45]. Moreover, while recent advances in technology have provided various diagnostic imaging modalities, none of these can accurately detect cervical lymph node metastases. cN0 neck

Fig. 1 a A 52-year-old male patient diagnosed with cT4aN2c mandibular gingival carcinoma. b The patient underwent segmental resection of the anterior part of the mandible in conjunction with bilateral neck dissection. c Segmental defect of the mandible was reconstructed with a scapular osteocutaneous free flap. The scapular bone was osteotomized at 2 sites to restore mandibular contour. Two years after reconstruction, after thinning of the scapular flap, 4 osseointegrated implants were installed (panoramic X-ray). d, e The implant-supported prosthesis provides a functional restoration and support of the lower lip

of involvement, irregular margins of the destroyed bone, and involvement of the mandibular canal through the marrow space [41, 42]. On the basis of these clinicopathological findings, marginal resection can be applied for T1 tumors and for T2/3 tumors with no or erosive bone resorption [43, 44], whereas segmental resection is recommended for T2/3 tumors with invasive resorption and for T4 tumors [33, 34]. When the depth of the mandible after marginal resection is \10 mm, the mandible may be reinforced with a titanium plate. Segmental defects of the mandible require reconstruction of mandibular continuity, especially by the use of a free vascularized bone flap. The donor site is selected on the basis of the bony defect along with the accompanying soft tissue defects. Free vascularized bone flaps clearly provide significant advantages for mandibular reconstruction; however, combined use of reconstruction plates and soft-tissue flaps remains a reconstructive option in some selected patients who have poor medical conditions or prognoses [21–23]. Dental rehabilitation using a prosthesis or osseointegrated dental implants is an important part of the reconstruction to restore the esthetics and functions (Fig. 1).


Approximately 20–30 % of clinical N0 necks have occult node metastasis, and thus cervical lymph node status is predicted by clinical and pathological evaluation of the primary tumor [46–52]. Management of clinical N0 neck is controversial, with some clinicians advocating the ‘‘wait and see’’ approach, whereas others favor elective neck dissection [53–55]. However, patients with delayed neck node metastases generally have a poor prognosis. For this reason, elective neck dissection is often considered for late-T2 and T3 cases in Japan [56]. That said, there are currently no definite surgical guidelines for treatment of clinical N0 neck, although, in general, elective neck dissection is considered warranted when the risk of occult metastases is [20 % [57]. Other indications for elective neck dissection include the need to enter the neck, either for resection of the primary tumor or for reconstruction. It may also be indicated when the patient is unlikely to return for a close follow-up. When the neck is treated electively, supraomohyoid neck dissection is generally performed [58, 59]. However, there is some reported evidence that level IV nodes are also at risk [60, 61], and, accordingly, these have to be included in the procedure in a subset of patients. Recent prospective multiinstitutional studies have demonstrated that sublevel IIB lymph nodes rarely involve isolated metastases from oral cancers, except from some tongue cancers. Thus, it is justifiable to omit dissection of sublevel IIB nodes in elective treatment of most cases of oral cancer [62]. Recently, sentinel node biopsy has received considerable attention as a means of avoiding unnecessary lymph node dissection. In the past, it has been mainly applied to cases of malignant melanoma and breast cancer, but has recently gained much attention as an investigational tool for head and neck cancer as well [63–65].

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Fig. 2 a A 76-year-old male patient was diagnosed with cT4aN2b retromolar trigone carcinoma. b MRI showed retropharyngeal node metastasis. c The patient underwent parapharyngeal dissection in conjunction with maxillo-mandibular resection and neck dissection

cN1–3 neck

Adjuvant therapy

For clinical N1–3 neck, it is generally recommended to perform a standard or modified RND (MRND) [66]. MRND, especially that sparing the spinal accessory nerve, has become the gold standard for neck disease. In addition, supraomohyoid neck dissection can be chosen for clinical N1 neck with level IB metastasis [57]. Because patients with multiple node metastases or extracapsular spread of tumors often present with neck failure and/or distant metastasis after neck dissection, postoperative radiotherapy or concurrent chemoradiotherapy is recommended [67–70]. Oral cancer may metastasize to the nodes situated outside the confines of the RND, such as the lingual and retropharyngeal nodes. The lingual nodes are small, inconstant, interrupting nodes that are divided into lateral and median lingual nodes. Lateral nodes are present in 30 % of all individuals, and are located on the external aspect of the genioglossus muscle or on the hyoglossus muscle, along the lingual artery and vein. Conversely, the median nodes are present in approximately 15 % of all individuals, and are found in the median plane of the tongue between the genioglossus muscles. It is recommended that theses nodes be removed by a pull-through operation [71, 72]. The retropharyngeal nodes are located at the base of the skull, close to the internal carotid artery. They receive lymph flow from the nasopharynx, maxilla, and posterior part of the oral cavity, and drain into the upper jugular nodes [73–75]. These nodes can be eradicated by retropharyngeal node or parapharyngeal dissections, which are systematic approaches for en bloc resection of the retro- and parapharyngeal spaces, respectively [76, 77] (Fig. 2).

Radiotherapy is typically applied postoperatively owing to the difficulty of surgically removing irradiated tissue, because tissues become fibrosed and thus tend to heal slower. Factors such as large primary tumors, positive or close surgical margins, and signs of perineural, lymph, and/ or vascular invasion generally dictate the use of radiotherapy at the primary site; however, the neck is also commonly treated, especially if there are positive nodes with or without extracapsular spread, in order to prevent potential metastasis and recurrence. Radiotherapy is recommended to begin within 6 weeks after surgery [78], and, while the radiation doses vary, a total dose of approximately 60 Gy is typical. In recent years, chemotherapy has emerged as a prominent adjunct modality for locoregionally advanced oral SCC. Although it is generally not considered a curative modality for oral cancers alone, it can be utilized before surgery (as induction therapy) or concurrently with irradiation (chemoradiotherapy) before or after surgery. Adjuvant chemoradiotherapy has almost become a standard treatment for advanced oral cancers. Currently, the most common regimen consists of CDDP 80–100 mg/m2 on days 1, 22, and 43, although other variations such as daily low-dose and weekly intermediate-dose CDDP have also shown survival benefits. In 1997, Robbins et al. [79] first reported marked results with RADPLAT, a superselective intra-arterial infusion of high-dose CDDP in combination with radiotherapy, for advanced head and neck cancer. Since then, the standard treatment in Japan for advanced head and neck cancer has been shifting from radical surgery to various organ preservation therapies, such as



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radiation therapy with concurrent superselective intraarterial chemotherapy. For oral lesions, superselective catheterization can be performed through the femoral artery or the superficial temporal artery and/or occipital artery [80, 81]. The local control rate of oral cancer treated by superselective intra-arterial chemoradiation is high, and it is thus recommended for T4 and unresectable tumors [82]. Lastly, overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has been confirmed in oral SCC, and has been reported to be associated with a poor prognosis [83]. The addition of a targeted agent, such as a monoclonal antibody EGFR inhibitor, has been reported to improve survival outcomes as compared with primary radiotherapy alone in head and neck SCCs [84]. Recently, the RTOG 0920 trial was launched in order to evaluate whether the addition of cetuximab, an EGFR inhibitor, to postoperative radiotherapy will improve overall survival in postoperative intermediate-risk oral cancer patients. Targeted therapies such as cetuximab are still a relatively new concept in head and neck cancer, and further studies are hence needed to confirm its clinical effectiveness. Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Current status of oral cancer treatment strategies: surgical treatments for oral squamous cell carcinoma.

The primary treatment modality of oral cancer is generally determined according to the stage of the disease, with surgical treatment remaining the mai...
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