Patients Undergoing Head and Neck Cancer Surgery Have a Low Risk of COVID-19 Infection

Patients undergoing head and neck cancer surgery do not have an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection, according to a study published in the journal CANCER.

In this study, researchers assessed data on 1,137 patients with head and neck cancer undergoing potentially curative surgery in 26 countries. They reported that the most common cancer sites were the oral cavity (38%) and the thyroid (21%), respectively.

According to the results, the death rate within 30 days after surgery was just over 1%, a rate that would be normally expected in this patient population, without a pandemic, the researchers noted. Moreover, 3% of patients tested positive for COVID-19 within 30 days of surgery; and of these 44.8% developed severe respiratory complications and three died.

“The problems were particularly acute in head and neck cancer surgery because for many cases, cure is dependent on surgery, but there was great concern about spreading infection from aerosol-generating procedures in the airway,” said corresponding author Richard J. Shaw, MD, FDS, FRCS, of The University of Liverpool Cancer Research Centre, in the U.K via a press release.


According to Professor Shaw, clinicians should be aware that these risks can be minimized with precautions such as staff testing, infection control measures, and vaccination.

“The early consensus was that head and neck surgery was very risky for patients, particularly less fit or elderly patients, or those who required complex procedures or reconstructive surgery,” Professor Shaw said. “Our data are reassuring in this regard, showing that there is no additional risk of COVID-19 for these groups.”