Background Lymph node yield is an important prognostic factor in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Variability in neck dissection sampling techniques has not been studied as a determinant of lymph node yield. Methods This retrospective study used lymph node yield and average nodes per level to compare level-by-level and en bloc neck dissection sampling methods, in primary head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cases operated between March 2017 and February 2020. Results From 123 patients, 182 neck dissections were analysed, of which 133 were selective and the rest were comprehensive: 55 had level-by-level sampling and 127 had undergone en bloc dissection. The level-by-level method yielded more nodes in all neck dissections combined (20 vs 17; p = 0.097), but the difference was significant only for the subcohort of selective neck dissection (18.5 vs 15; p = 0.011). However, the gain in average nodes per level achieved by level-by-level sampling was significant in both groups (4.2 vs 3.33 and 4.4 vs 3, respectively; both p < 0.001). Conclusion Sampling of cervical lymph nodes level-by-level yields more nodes than the en bloc technique. Further studies could verify whether neck dissection sampling technique has any impact on survival rates.
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