Lymph node involvement is prognostically the most determinant clinical factor for patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs). Ultrasound of the neck and fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology is one of the first diagnostic procedures and the most accurate diagnostic staging tool for the neck. Patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinomas (OPSCC) show a significantly better prognosis when compared with HPV-negative OPSCC. P16 overexpression is accepted as surrogate marker for HPV-positive in OPSCC. These HPV/p16-positive OPSCC are localized either in the palatal tonsils or the base of tongue and frequently present with lymph node metastases. We analyzed the correlation and reliability of p16 expression of the FNA of the lymph node metastasis with the immunohistochemical expression of p16 of the same lymph node metastasis and its corresponding primary tumor, as it could be of importance for determining the localization and different prognosis of the primary tumor. 54 HNSCC patients were evaluated, p16 expression of the primary tumors and their lymph node metastases correlated precisely. In 25 of the 54 HNSCC patients, a FNA of the lymph node metastases was taken before the treatment. The positive cytological and immunohistochemical p16 staining correlated exactly. Of the 17 histologically p16-negative lymph node metastases 15 FNA were p16-negative, whereas two samples were p16-positive. In our view, a cytological p16 analysis of cervical lymph node metastasis can facilitate the correct localization of the primary tumor and discriminate reliably HPV-positive OPSCC from HPV-negative HNSCC with their significantly diverse prognosis.
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