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How should we stage and tailor treatment strategy in locally advanced cervical cancer? Imaging versus para-aortic surgical staging


Para-aortic lymph node status at initial assessment is the most important prognostic factor and a key point for the therapeutic strategy in patients with locally advanced cervical cancer. Undiagnosed lymph node metastasis is a major clinical problem as the finding of positive para-aortic lymph nodes leads to treatment modification, with a possible impact on disease free survival. When aortic lymph node disease is discovered, radiotherapy is extended to the para-aortic area, and other treatment modalities may be considered. Fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) is the most accurate imaging examination to assess para-aortic extension in patients with locally advanced cervical cancer. The gold standard to identify para-aortic extension remains histologic evaluation of the lymph nodes. Indeed, PET/CT fails to detect approximately 10–15% of patients with negative PET/CT aortic nodes who have lymph node metastasis on pathologic staging. Patients with positive pelvic lymph nodes have para-aortic extension in 25–30% of cases, and surgical staging will lead to treatment modification and probably to improved para-aortic and distant control. Surgical staging also avoids unnecessary toxicity associated with extended field radiation in approximately 75% of patients with pelvic lymph node metastasis. The best modality to identify para-aortic extension is histological evaluation of the lymph nodes, but the survival benefit of surgical staging remains controversial. On the other hand, current studies include a majority of patients without pelvic lymph node spread, who are likely to be those who will benefit the least from surgical staging.

  • cervical cancer
  • surgical procedures, operative
  • lymph nodes

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