Calcified lymph nodes in the setting of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma: A predictor of HPV positivity?


Purpose: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an important cause of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and accounts for a large majority of new cases. The purpose of this study is to determine whether there is an association between nodal calcification and HPV positivity in the setting of metastatic HNSCC.

Methods: Consecutive patients with HNSCC who underwent CT were retrospectively identified. Patients were then divided into two groups: those with HPV-positive HNSCC and those with HPV-negative HNSCC. Demographic, clinical, and CT data were compared between the two groups to determine factors associated with HPV-positive HNSCC.

Results: A total of 179 patients with HNSCC were included in the final analyses, 104 (58%) of whom had HPV-positive tumors. Univariate analyses demonstrated that those with HPV-positive HNSCC were more likely to have calcified lymph nodes (p = 0.044). Analyses also confirmed previously known associations with male gender (p = 0.001), primary oropharyngeal tumors (p < 0.001), and cystic lymph nodes (<0.001). The HPV-positive HNSCC group was also less likely to have necrotic lymph nodes (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: In addition to known clinical and imaging factors associated with HPV-positive metastatic HNSCC, such as male gender, oropharyngeal primary location, and cystic lymph nodes, the presence of calcifications within cervical lymph nodes, although infrequent, provides an additional useful feature to predict HPV positivity in HNSCC. Additionally, if calcified lymph nodes are present, then a primary oropharyngeal tumor site should be considered.



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