Head and neck cancer: The importance of oxygen

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22 Scopus citations


Objectives: To use recently introduced polarographic technology to characterize the distribution of oxygenation in solid tumors, explore the differences between severe hypoxia and true necrosis, and evaluate the ability to predict treatment outcomes based on tumor oxygenation. Study Design: Prospective, nonrandomized trial of patients with advanced head and neck cancer, conducted at an academic institution. Methods: A total of 63 patients underwent polarographic oxygen measurements of their tumors. Experiment 1 was designed to determine whether gradient of oxygenation exists within tumors by examining several series of measurements in each tumor. Experiment 2 was an analysis of the difference in data variance incurred when comparing oxygen measurements using oxygen electrodes of two different sizes. Experiment 2 compared the proportion of tumor necrosis to the proportion of very low (≤2.5 mm Hg) polarographic oxygen measurements. Experiment 4 was designed to explore the correlation between oxygenation and treatment outcomes after nonsurgical management. Results: No gradient of oxygenation was found within cervical lymph node metastases from head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (P > .9). Tumor measurements achieved with larger (17 μm) electrodes displayed smaller variances than those obtained with smaller (12 μm) electrodes, although this difference failed to reach statistical significance (P = .60). There was no correlation between tumor necrosis and the proportion of very low (≤2.5 mm Hg) oxygen measurements. There was a nonsignificant trend toward poorer locoregional control and overall survival in hypoxic tumors. Conclusions: Hypoxia exists within cervical lymph node metastases from head and neck squamous carcinomas, but the hypoxic regions are distributed essentially randomly. As expected, measurements of oxygen achieved with larger electrodes results in lowered variance, but with no change in overall tumor mean oxygen levels. Polarographic oxygen measurements are independent of tumor necrosis. Finally, oxygenation as an independent variable is incapable of predicting prognosis, probably reflecting the multifactorial nature of the biological behavior of head and neck cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-707
Number of pages11
Issue number5 I
StatePublished - May 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Microelectrode
  • Necrosis
  • Oxygen tension
  • Tumor biology
  • Variance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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