Nationwide randomised trial evaluating elective neck dissection for early stage oral cancer (SEND study) with meta-analysis and concurrent real-world cohort.
BACKGROUND: Guidelines remain unclear over whether patients with early stage oral cancer without overt neck disease benefit from upfront elective neck dissection (END), particularly those with the smallest tumours. METHODS: We conducted a randomised trial of patients with stage T1/T2 N0 disease, who had their mouth tumour resected either with or without END. Data were also collected from a concurrent cohort of patients who had their preferred surgery. Endpoints included overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS). We conducted a meta-analysis of all six randomised trials. RESULTS: Two hundred fifty randomised and 346 observational cohort patients were studied (27 hospitals). Occult neck disease was found in 19.1% (T1) and 34.7% (T2) patients respectively. Five-year intention-to-treat hazard ratios (HR) were: OS HR = 0.71 (p = 0.18), and DFS HR = 0.66 (p = 0.04). Corresponding per-protocol results were: OS HR = 0.59 (p = 0.054), and DFS HR = 0.56 (p = 0.007). END was effective for small tumours. END patients experienced more facial/neck nerve damage; QoL was largely unaffected. The observational cohort supported the randomised findings. The meta-analysis produced HR OS 0.64 and DFS 0.54 (p < 0.001). CONCLUSION: SEND and the cumulative evidence show that within a generalizable setting oral cancer patients who have an upfront END have a lower risk of death/recurrence, even with small tumours. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: NIHR UK Clinical Research Network database ID number: UKCRN 2069 (registered on 17/02/2006), ISCRTN number: 65018995, ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00571883.