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Clinical and pathological features of perineural spread have been investigated in patients with squamous carcinomas at several sites in the head and neck. In 100 surgical cases, the clinical and pathological findings were congruent in 76%. Combined clinical and histological evidence of perineural invasion was recorded in 33% and the overall incidence of nerve involvement detected morphologically was 44%. Perineural infiltration was demonstrated histologically in 51% of major excisions from the buccal cavity and in 34% of resections from the oropharynx, hypopharynx and cervical oesophagus. The neurological findings were dominated by hypoaesthesia, dysaesthesia and referred pain – mainly in the territories of cranial nerves V and IX. Multiple and/or sequential nerve involvement was occasionally seen. No correlation was established between nerve invasion and metastasis to regional lymph nodes. Long-distance infiltration of nerve trunks, and multiple involvement, are grave prognostic features.
In 17 terminal patients submitted to autopsy, 65% had combined clinical and pathological evidence of perineural spread and the overall incidence of nerve involvement detected morphologically was 88%. Sensory changes again predominated. Multiple nerve involvement was observed in 35%. An apparently new `dysphagia syndrome' is described in 4 patients with oropharyngeal carcinomas in whom gross mechanical obstruction was simulated by a combination of perineural spread of tumour into the ipsilateral vagal trunk, sometimes accompanied by segmental infarction, variable invasion of the sympathetic chain, and `splinting' of the pharynx by local fibrosis and tumour in the soft tissues of the neck. Short-term palliation was achieved in these patients with high-dose steroids.