radical neck dissection

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Radical Neck Dissection



Radical neck dissection is an operation used to remove cancerous tissue in the head and neck.


The purpose of radical neck dissection is to remove lymph nodes and other structures in the head and neck that are likely or proven to be malignant. Variations on neck dissections exist depending on the extent of the cancer. A radical neck dissection removes the most tissue. It is done when the cancer has spread widely in the neck. A modified neck dissection removes less tissue, and a selective neck dissection even less.


This operation should not be done if cancer has metastasized (spread) beyond the head and neck, or if the cancer has invaded the bones of the cervical vertebrae (the first seven vertebrae of the spinal column) or the skull. In these cases, the surgery will not effectively contain the cancer.


Cancers of the head and neck (sometimes inaccurately called throat cancer) often spread to nearby tissues and into the lymph nodes. Removing these structures is one way of controlling the cancer.
Of the 600 hundred lymph nodes in the body, about 200 are in the neck. Only a small number of these are removed during a neck dissection. In addition, other structures such as muscles, veins, and nerves may be removed during a radical neck dissection. These include the sternocleidomastoid muscle (one of the muscles that functions to flex the head), internal jugular (neck) vein, submandibular gland (one of the salivary glands), and the spinal accessory nerve (a nerve that helps control speech, swallowing and certain movements of the head and neck). The goal is always to remove all the cancer but to save as many components surrounding the nodes as possible.
Radical neck dissections are done in a hospital under general anesthesia by a head and neck surgeon. An incision is made in the neck, and the skin is pulled back to reveal the muscles and lymph nodes. The surgeon is guided in what to remove by tests done prior to surgery and by examination of the size and texture of the lymph nodes.


Radical neck dissection is a major operation. Extensive tests are done before the operation to try to determine where and how far the cancer has spread. These may include lymph node biopsies, CT (computed tomography) scans, MRI scans, and barium swallows. In addition, standard pre-operative blood and liver function tests are performed, and the patient will meet with an anesthesiologist before the operation. The patient should tell the anesthesiologist about all drug allergies and all medication (prescription, non-prescription, or herbal) that he or she is taking.


A person who has had a radical neck dissection will stay in the hospital several days after the operation, and sometimes longer if surgery to remove the primary tumor was done at the same time. Drains are inserted under the skin to remove the fluid that accumulates in the neck area. Once the drains are removed and the incision appears to be healing well, patients are usually discharged from the hospital, but will require follow-up doctor visits. Depending on how many structures are removed, a person who has had a radical neck dissection may require physical therapy to regain use of the arm and shoulder.


The greatest risk in a radical neck dissection is damage to the nerves, muscles, and veins in the neck. Nerve damage can result in numbness (either temporary or permanent) to different regions on the neck and loss of function (temporary or permanent) to parts of the neck, throat, and shoulder. The more extensive the neck dissection, the more function the patient is likely to lose. As a result, it is common following radical neck dissection for a person to have stooped shoulders, limited ability to lift the arm, and limited head and neck rotation and flexion due to the removal of nerves and muscles. Other risks are the same as for all major surgery: potential bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Normal results

Normal lymph nodes are small and show no cancerous cells under the microscope.

Abnormal results

Abnormal lymph nodes may be enlarged and show malignant cells when examined under the microscope.



American Cancer Society. 1599 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329. (800) ACS-2345). http://www.cancer.org.
Cancer Information Service. National Cancer Institute, Building 31, Room 10A19, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892. (800) 4-CANCER. 〈http://www.nci.nih.gov/cancerinfo/index.html〉.


The Voice Center at Eastern Virginia Medical School. February 17, 2001. [cited June 7, 2001]. http://www.voice-center.com.

Key terms

Barium swallow — Barium is used to coat the throat in order to take x-ray pictures of the tissues lining the throat.
Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan — Using × rays taken from many angles and computer modeling, CT scans help size and locate tumors and provide information on whether they can be surgically removed.
Lymph nodes — Small, bean-shaped collections of tissue found in lymph vessels. They produce cells and proteins that fight infection and filter lymph. Nodes are sometimes called lymph glands.
Lymphatic system — Primary defense against infection in the body. The tissues, organs, and channels (similar to veins) that produce, store, and transport lymph and white blood cells to fight infection.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed cross-sectional pictures of the interior of the body.
Malignant — Cancerous. Cells tend to reproduce without normal controls on growth and form tumors or invade other tissues.
Metastasize — Spread of cells from the original site of the cancer to other parts of the body where secondary tumors are formed.

radical neck dissection

an operation for the removal of metastases to the lymph nodes of the neck in which all of the tissue is removed between the superficial and the deep cervical fascia from the mandible to the clavicle.
See also: functional neck dissection.

radical neck dissection

dissection and removal of all lymph nodes and removable tissues under the skin of the neck, performed to prevent the spread of malignant tumors of the head and neck that have a reasonable chance of being controlled. Thorough mouth hygiene is given, and antibiotics are begun. A tracheostomy may be done.
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Neck incisions for radical neck dissection

radical neck dissection

A common major operation for head & neck CA, most of which are SCC; in a 'radical neck'–RN, the neck is opened laterally, most of the sternocleidomastoid muscle is removed, as are cervical lymph nodes, jugular vein, spinal accessory nerve, submaxillary gland and most of the parotid gland; it may be combined with a partial resection of the mandible and tongue, depending on lesion topography. Cf Commando operation, 'Heroic' surgery, Mutilating surgery.

rad·i·cal neck dis·sec·tion

(rad'i-kăl nek di-sek'shŭn)
An operation for the removal of metastases to the lymph nodes of the neck in which all of the tissue is removed between the superficial and the deep cervical fascia from the mandible to the clavicle.
See also: functional neck dissection

rad·i·cal neck dis·sec·tion

(rad'i-kăl nek di-sek'shŭn)
An operation for the removal of metastases to the lymph nodes of the neck in which all tissue is removed between the superficial and the deep cervical fascia from the mandible to the clavicle.
References in periodicals archive ?
5 Modified radical neck dissection (MRND) is often oncologically equivalent to radical neck dissection but with a significant reduction in postoperative morbidity gradually replaced radical neck dissection in the treatment of the neck for many patients with SCC of the oral cavity.
Strauss M, Bushey MJ, Chung C, Baum S: Fracture of the clavicle following radical neck dissection and postoperative radiotherapy: a case report and review of the literature.
Elective radical neck dissection in epidermoid cancer of the head and neck: a retrospective analysis of 853 cases of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancer.
Description of the location of metastatic disease in the neck based upon the primary site, justified modi-fications in radical neck dissection.
Acute postoperative carotid artery rupture, or "blow out" occurs in 3% to 4% of radical neck dissection and associated with a mortality rate of 50%.
Short et al reported that the degree of shoulder pain and dysfunction is less in patients who undergo modified radical neck dissection with SAN preservation than it is without preservation of the SAN.
Anatomical knowledge of such variations are also important for surgeons during radical neck dissection surgery to check any inadvertent injury.
Modified radical neck dissection refers to removal of neck lymphatics with conservation of non lymphatics structures.
A resection of the soft palate was performed along with a radical neck dissection on the right and a modified neck dissection on the left.
Nodal metastases are treated by preoperative radiation therapy and radical neck dissection.
Following fine-needle aspiration biopsy, which demonstrated malignancy, a radical neck dissection was performed.