- Open Access
Buccal mucosa carcinoma: surgical margin less than 3 mm, not 5 mm, predicts locoregional recurrence
© Chiou et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 11 June 2010
Accepted: 15 September 2010
Published: 15 September 2010
Most treatment failure of buccal mucosal cancer post surgery is locoregional recurrence. We tried to figure out how close the surgical margin being unsafe and needed further adjuvant treatment.
Between August 2000 and June 2008, a total of 110 patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma (25 with stage I, 31 with stage II, 11 with stage III, and 43 with Stage IV classified according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer 6th edition) were treated with surgery alone (n = 32), surgery plus postoperative radiotherapy (n = 38) or surgery plus adjuvant concurrent chemoradiotherapy (n = 40).
Main outcome measures: The primary endpoint was locoregional disease control.
The median follow-up time at analysis was 25 months (range, 4-104 months). The 3-year locoregional control rates were significantly different when a 3-mm surgical margin (≤3 versus >3 mm, 71% versus 95%, p = 0.04) but not a 5-mm margin (75% versus 92%, p = 0.22) was used as the cut-off level. We also found a quantitative correlation between surgical margin and locoregional failure (hazard ratio, 2.16; 95% confidence interval, 1.14 - 4.11; p = 0.019). Multivariate analysis identified pN classification and surgical margin as independent factors affecting disease-free survival and locoregional control.
Narrow surgical margin ≤3 mm, but not 5 mm, is associated with high risk for locoregional recurrence of buccal mucosa carcinoma. More aggressive treatment after surgery is suggested.
The incidence of buccal mucosa carcinoma has rapidly increased in Taiwan in recent decades; major risk factors for this disease are smoking, alcohol drinking, and betel nut chewing[1–3]. In patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma, locoregional recurrence (rate, 30-80%) is the main cause of treatment failure[4, 5]. Several predictive factors for locoregional recurrence have been reported: bone erosion or invasion, positive surgical margin, perineural infiltration or invasion, vascular invasion, lymph node involvement, and extracapsular extension of tumor from the involved lymph node.
To reduce the risk of locoregional recurrence, radical surgery plus postoperative radiotherapy (RT) has been recommended for locoreginally advanced disease [7–9]. More recently, two large-scale randomized trials by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) and the European Organization for Research Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) have demonstrated definitive benefits of post-operative concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CCRT) after radical surgery in patients with high-risk head-and-neck cancers [10, 11]. National Comprehensive Cancer Network treatment guidelines recommend post-operative CCRT for patients with positive surgical margin or nodal extracapsular extension. However, in our limited treatment experience, patients with close surgical margins still have a high risk of locoregional recurrence. In the literature, close surgical margins less than 3 mm or 5 mm[13–15] have been reported to associate with a high risk of cancer recurrence. However, there is still no universally agreed on definition of close surgical margin in buccal mucosa carcinoma.
Hence, we conducted this study to explore the effect of close surgical margin on outcome in patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma; and more importantly, to define close surgical margins in these patients. The primary endpoint was locoregional disease control and the secondary endpoints were disease-free survival, disease-specific survival, distant-metastatic survival, and overall survival. Other prognostic factors were also analyzed.
The procedures we followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the committee on human experimentation of our institution and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 1983. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Buddhist Dalin Tzu Chi General Hospital before this study was performed.
Patients and stage classification
The records of 134 patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma, treated from August 2000 to June 2008, were retrospectively reviewed. All patients received definitive treatments and had no distant metastasis. Twenty-four patients treated with CCRT alone (n = 7), RT alone (n = 5), neoadjuvant therapy plus surgery (n = 6), or who had a synchronous second primary (n = 6) were excluded. Thus, the remaining 110 patients who underwent radical surgery with or without adjuvant treatments were analyzed. Cancer staging was classified according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer, the 6th edition.
Radical surgery consisted of wide excision with or without flap reconstruction for primary tumor and of unilateral or bilateral radical neck dissection for neck disease management. Pathology reports were reviewed for prognostic factor analysis. Adjuvant treatments were started 4-6 weeks after surgery, if indicated. Adjuvant CCRT was indicated for positive margin, extracapsular nodal spread, or combined any other 2 risk factors, including perineural invasion, vascular permeation, pT3, pT4 or N (+) nodal disease. Adjuvant RT was indicated for single risk factor except positive margin and extracapsular nodal spread.
For 78 irradiated patients, post-operative Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) was carried out using an inverse planning system (PLATO, Nucleotron Inc., Veenendaal, The Netherlands). The radiation field encompassed the surgical bed of the primary tumor and neck. The critical normal structures used for optimization included the brain stem, spinal cord, parotid glands, optic nerves, optic chiasm, lenses, and eyeballs. During RT, electronic portal imaging was performed weekly for verification. The prescribed doses delivered by external beam RT were as follows: 70-72 Gy to the gross tumor volume; 60-66 Gy to the high risk nodal region; and, 50-60 Gy to the low risk nodal region. Conventional RT fractionation was given, namely 1.8-2.0 Gy per day and 5 days per week for 6-7 weeks. The spinal cord dose was limited to 45 Gy.
Chemotherapy was given concurrently with and after RT, if indicated. The chemotherapy protocol consisted of a concurrent two-month course of cisplatin and fluorouracil (5-FU) followed by another 2-month course after RT, with regimens of cisplatin (60-100 mg/m2/day) on day 1 and 5-FU (1000 mg/m2/day) on days 1-5. We evaluated treatment toxicities by using the common toxicity criteria of the National Cancer Institute, V2.0.
Statistical methods and definitions
Survival and follow-up times were calculated from the day of pathological diagnosis to the day of last follow-up or death. We used commercial statistical software (SPSS version 12.0; SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) to conduct statistical analyses, as follows: the Kaplan-Meier method to cumulatively estimate survival and disease-control rates; the log-rank test to assess curve difference between groups; Pearson's χ2 test to evaluate differences between variables; and, Cox proportional hazard regression to perform multivariate analysis for hazard ratio (HR) assessment. For estimating the effective size, HR was provided with a 95% confidence interval (CI) in addition to a conventional p value. All tests were two-tailed and considered to be statistically significant when p < 0.05.
Surgical margin was defined as the distance between the outer edge of the tumor and the cut edge of the specimen under a microscope.
Characteristics of patients
Characteristics of 110 patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma.
Number of patients
Betel nut chewing
Stage distribution in 110 patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma, n (%).
Pathology stage (n, %)
I (25, 22.7%)
II (31, 28.2%)
III (11, 10.0%)
IV (43, 39.1%)
Locoregional control and survival
The 3-year disease-free survival and locoregional control according to surgical margins
Disease-free survival (%)
Locoregional control (%)
0.4 (95% CI, 0.19-0.86)
0.4 (95% CI, 0.16-0.80)
0.2 (95% CI, 0.06-0.72)
0.2 (95% CI, 0.05-0.67)
0.1 (95% CI, 0.03-0.62)
0.1 (95% CI, 0.01-0.64)
0.1 (95% CI, 0.01-0.60)
0.1 (95% CI, 0.01-0.72)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.06-1.16)
0.2 (95% CI, 0.02-1.19)
0.2 (95% CI, 0.03-1.86)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.03-2.12)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.08-1.49)
0.2 (95% CI, 0.03-1.53)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.04-2.16)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.04-2.52)
0.5 (95% CI, 0.12-2.22)
0.3 (95% CI, 0.04-2.30)
0.5 (95% CI, 0.07-4.22)
0.6 (95% CI, 0.08-4.80)
For all patients, the rates of 3-year locoregional control, disease-free survival, disease-specific survival, distant metastasis-free survival, and overall survival were 73%, 70%, 84%, 96%, and 82%, respectively.
The 3-year clinical outcomes according to prognostic factors.
Overall survival (%)
Disease-specific survival (%)
Disease-free survival (%)
Locoregional control (%)
Distant metastasis-free survival (%)
Prognostic factors affecting clinical outcome in multivariate analysis.
HR (95% CI)
Nodal status (pN0 vs. pN1-3)
Nodal status (pN0 vs. pN1-3)
Nodal status (pN0 vs. pN1-3)
Surgical margin (≤2 mm vs. >2 mm)
Nodal status (pN0 vs. pN1-3)
Surgical margin (≤2 mm vs. >2 mm)
Synopsis of key findings
In this study, two major findings indicated that surgical margin ≤3 mm, not 5 mm, was a useful pathological parameter for predicting locoregional recurrence in patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma treated surgically. First, the 3-year locoregional control rates were significantly different at the cut-off value of 3 mm (≤3 versus >3 mm, 71% versus 95%, p = 0.04), but not at 5 mm (75% versus 92%, p = 0.22). Second, we found a quantitative correlation between surgical margin and locoregional failure (HR, 2.16; 95% C.I., 1.14 - 4.11; p = 0.019), which suggested that every 1 mm decrease in surgical margin significantly increased the rate of locoregional failure by 116%.
Clinical applicability and comparison with other studies
For patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma and positive surgical margins, postoperative clinical outcome is poor [18, 19]. For patients with close surgical margins, the risk for cancer recurrence is high [12, 13, 15]. However, how many millimeters between the tumor and edge of the specimen define a close surgical margin? More importantly, can this definition be used to make a treatment recommendation after surgery? The answers to these questions are still controversial. A previous study suggested 3 mm was adequate to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence , but most studies recommended 5 mm [13–15]. In our study, surgical margin ≤3 mm tightly associated with high locoregional recurrence rate in patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma. Considering survival as the endpoint, overall survival was significantly poorer in patients with surgical margin ≤2 mm than in those with margin >2 mm (Table 4). In our study, we also adjusted treatment modality. The treatment results did not have significant difference. For a close margin of ≤3 mm, more effective and safe drugs, re-surgery or higher doses of radiotherapy should be considered into multi-modal treatment strategy.
Thus, we would suggest that for locoregional control, surgical margin of 3 mm, not 5 mm, may be a suitable cut-off point to use for post-operative adjuvant therapy decision making; however, for survival, surgical margin of 2 mm may be the cut-off point at which stronger post-operative treatment is recommended.
Several other post-operative prognostic factors were evaluated in our study. In agreement with other studies [9, 19–21], our study found that pN classification was the most important prognostic factor for both survival and locoregional control. The 3-year overall survival and locoregional control rates in patients with pN0 and pN1-3 diseases were 96%/33% and 81%/46%, respectively (both p values < 0.001; Tables 4 and 5), suggesting that intense post-operative adjuvant therapy should be given to patients with pN1-3 disease, and CCRT with or without targeted therapy in a clinical trial setting should be considered.
ECS of involved lymph nodes has been found to be a poor prognostic factor. Patients with both ECS and a positive surgical margin had significantly poorer overall survival than those without these risk factors [10, 11, 15]. In our study, ECS significantly associated with poor survival only in univariate but not in multivariate analysis.
Strengths of this study
The main strength of this study is that the medical and surgical records were complete and the pathologies were well defined for all 110 patients included with buccal mucosa carcinoma treated with radical surgery; the homogeneity of this study population increases the clinical applicability of our results to such patients.
Limitations of this study
This study had two main limitations: a retrospective design and small number of cases. Thus, the conclusions of this study should be confirmed by further investigations. Despite these limitations, our data showed that a surgical margin of more than 3 mm may be relatively safe margin in patients surgically-treated for buccal mucosa carcinoma.
More aggressive post-operative therapy is suggested for patients with buccal mucosa carcinoma excised with a close margin of ≤3 mm.
- Franceschi S, Talamini R, Barra S, Baron AE, Negri E, Bidoli E, Serraino D, La Vecchia C: Smoking and drinking in relation to cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus in northern Italy. Cancer Res 1990, 50: 6502-6507.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lin LM, Chen YK, Lai DR, Huang YL, Chen HR: Cancer-promoting effect of Taiwan betel quid in hamster buccal pouch carcinogenesis. Oral Dis 1997, 3: 232-235. 10.1111/j.1601-0825.1997.tb00047.xView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lin YS, Jen YM, Wang BB, Lee JC, Kang BH: Epidemiology of oral cavity cancer in taiwan with emphasis on the role of betel nut chewing. ORL J Otorhinolaryngol Relat Spec 2005, 67: 230-236.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lapeyre M, Peiffert D, Malissard L, Hoffstetter S, Pernot M: An original technique of brachytherapy in the treatment of epidermoid carcinomas of the buccal mucosa. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 1995, 33: 447-454. 10.1016/0360-3016(95)00065-7View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Strome SE, To W, Strawderman M, Gersten K, Devaney KO, Bradford CR, Esclamado RM: Squamous cell carcinoma of the buccal mucosa. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1999, 120: 375-379. 10.1016/S0194-5998(99)70278-0View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hinerman RW, Mendenhall WM, Morris CG, Amdur RJ, Werning JW, Villaret DB: Postoperative irradiation for squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity: 35-year experience. Head Neck 2004, 26: 984-994. 10.1002/hed.20091View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Cherian T, Sebastian P, Ahamed MI, Jayakumar KL, Sivaramakrishnan P, Jeevy G, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair MK: Evaluation of salvage surgery in heavily irradiated cancer of the buccal mucosa. Cancer 1991, 68: 295-299. 10.1002/1097-0142(19910715)68:2<295::AID-CNCR2820680214>3.0.CO;2-AView ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Mishra RC, Singh DN, Mishra TK: Post-operative radiotherapy in carcinoma of buccal mucosa, a prospective randomized trial. Eur J Surg Oncol 1996, 22: 502-504. 10.1016/S0748-7983(96)92969-8View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lin CS, Jen YM, Cheng MF, Lin YS, Su WF, Hwang JM, Chang LP, Chao HL, Liu DW, Lin HY, Shum WY: Squamous cell carcinoma of the buccal mucosa: an aggressive cancer requiring multimodality treatment. Head Neck 2006, 28: 150-157. 10.1002/hed.20303View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Bernier J, Domenge C, Ozsahin M, Matuszewska K, Lefebvre JL, Greiner RH, Giralt J, Maingon P, Rolland F, Bolla M, et al.: Postoperative irradiation with or without concomitant chemotherapy for locally advanced head and neck cancer. N Engl J Med 2004, 350: 1945-1952. 10.1056/NEJMoa032641View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Cooper JS, Pajak TF, Forastiere AA, Jacobs J, Campbell BH, Saxman SB, Kish JA, Kim HE, Cmelak AJ, Rotman M, et al.: Postoperative concurrent radiotherapy and chemotherapy for high-risk squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck. N Engl J Med 2004, 350: 1937-1944. 10.1056/NEJMoa032646View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Nason RW, Binahmed A, Pathak KA, Abdoh AA, Sandor GK: What is the adequate margin of surgical resection in oral cancer? Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod . 2009, 107: 625-629.Google Scholar
- Brandwein-Gensler M, Teixeira MS, Lewis CM, Lee B, Rolnitzky L, Hille JJ, Genden E, Urken ML, Wang BY: Oral squamous cell carcinoma: histologic risk assessment, but not margin status, is strongly predictive of local disease-free and overall survival. Am J Surg Pathol 2005, 29: 167-178. 10.1097/01.pas.0000149687.90710.21View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Meier JD, Oliver DA, Varvares MA: Surgical margin determination in head and neck oncology: current clinical practice. The results of an International American Head and Neck Society Member Survey. Head Neck 2005, 27: 952-958. 10.1002/hed.20269View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Bernier J, Cooper JS, Pajak TF, van Glabbeke M, Bourhis J, Forastiere A, Ozsahin EM, Jacobs JR, Jassem J, Ang KK, Lefebvre JL: Defining risk levels in locally advanced head and neck cancers: a comparative analysis of concurrent postoperative radiation plus chemotherapy trials of the EORTC(#22931) and RTOG (# 9501). Head Neck 2005, 27: 843-850. 10.1002/hed.20279View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Greene FL, Page DL, Fleming ID, AG F: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. New York: Springer-Verlag 2002, 23-32.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- DCTD, NCI, NIH, DHHS: Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program Common Toxicity Criteria, Version 2.0. 1999, 1-32.Google Scholar
- Fang FM, Leung SW, Huang CC, Liu YT, Wang CJ, Chen HC, Sun LM, Huang DT: Combined-modality therapy for squamous carcinoma of the buccal mucosa: treatment results and prognostic factors. Head Neck 1997, 19: 506-512. 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0347(199709)19:6<506::AID-HED8>3.0.CO;2-2View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Lin CY, Lee LY, Huang SF, Kang CJ, Fan KH, Wang HM, Chen EY, Chen IH, Liao CT, Cheng AJ, Chang JT: Treatment outcome of combined modalities for buccal cancers: unilateral or bilateral neck radiation? Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2008, 70: 1373-1381. 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2007.08.022View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Diaz EM Jr, Holsinger FC, Zuniga ER, Roberts DB, Sorensen DM: Squamous cell carcinoma of the buccal mucosa: one institution's experience with 119 previously untreated patients. Head Neck 2003, 25: 267-273. 10.1002/hed.10221View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ghoshal S, Mallick I, Panda N, Sharma SC: Carcinoma of the buccal mucosa: analysis of clinical presentation, outcome and prognostic factors. Oral Oncol 2006, 42: 533-539. 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2005.10.005View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.