Perineural invasion and spread in head and neck cancer

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Perineural involvement is a well-recognized clinicopathologic entity found in head and neck (H&N) cancers, including mucosal epithelial carcinomas and salivary gland malignancies. Perineural disease remains a diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic challenge for the multidisciplinary H&N oncology team. Nerves are important routes of tumor spread in H&N malignancies, yet the biology and prognostic implications of perineural tumor growth are not fully understood. On balance, the available evidence suggests that it is associated with an increased risk of locoregional recurrence but the impact on survival remains uncertain. Perineural involvement has implications for locoregional disease diagnosis and management. MRI is the best imaging modality to detect tumor extent. Advanced radiotherapy technologies such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy have the potential for more accurate targeting and treatment of anatomically complex patterns of disease spread. This review is limited to nondermatologic H&N cancers.

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