Premature excision biopsy of a cervical lymph node infiltrated by metastatic carcinoma may compromise patient survival since it is associated with an increased incidence of local wound recurrence and distant metastases. Seventy per cent of such patients have an identifiable head and neck primary, obviating the need for an excision biopsy. It is important therefore that they are examined by surgeons who are experienced in inspecting the upper aerodigestive tract and who are competent in performing definitive head and neck surgery. A questionnaire sent to all general practitioners of an Inner London and a District Health Authority revealed that only 18% and 33% respectively referred patients who they suspected of having a metastatic neck node to a department with an experienced head and neck surgeon. We conclude that greater emphasis on the correct management of these patients at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level may encourage subsequent generations of general practitioners to review their referral patterns.
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