Conformal re-irradiation of recurrent and new primary head-and-neck cancer

L A Dawson, L L Myers, C R Bradford, D B Chepeha, N D Hogikyan, T N Teknos, J E Terrell, G T Wolf, A Eisbruch
International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 2001 June 1, 50 (2): 377-85

PURPOSE: To review the outcome of head-and-neck cancer patients re-irradiated using conformal radiation.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: From 1983 to 1999, 60 patients with recurrent or new primary head-and-neck cancer received re-irradiation at the University of Michigan. Twenty patients were excluded due to the planned cumulative radiation dose being less than 100 Gy (18) and absence of prior radiation details (2), leaving 40 patients. Thirty-five patients were re-irradiated for unresectable disease, while 4 patients received adjuvant re-irradiation for high-risk disease. Thirty-eight patients had recurrences from previously treated cancer (19 regional, 14 local, 5 regional and local), and 2 patients had new primary tumors. The median time from the first course of radiation to re-irradiation was 21 months. Thirty-one patients (78%) were re-irradiated with curative intent, whereas 9 were treated with palliative intent. Re-irradiation was delivered using conformal techniques in the majority of patients and with concurrent chemotherapy in 14 patients. The median re-irradiation dose was 60 Gy. The median cumulative dose received was 121 Gy. Five patients (13%) did not complete their prescribed course of re-irradiation.

RESULTS: The median survival following completion of re-irradiation was 12.5 months. The 1- and 2-year actuarial survival rates were 51.1% and 32.6%, respectively. On multivariate analysis, palliative intent of treatment, tumor bulk, and tumor site other than nasopharynx or larynx were associated with worse survival. The patients treated for unresectable disease did no worse than those treated adjuvantly. The median times to relapse-free survival, local-regional recurrence (LRR)-free survival, and ultimate LRR-free survival (allowing for surgical salvage) were 3.9 months, 7.8 months, and 8.7 months, respectively. Seven patients (18%) are presently alive with no evidence of disease, with a median follow-up of 49.9 months (range 3.3-78.9). Severe radiation-induced complications were seen in 7 patients (18%). Two other patients developed orocutaneous fistulas in the presence of tumor recurrence. Moderate fibrosis and trismus were common.

CONCLUSION: Despite the use of conformal techniques, the prognosis of patients treated with re-irradiation is poor, and complications are not infrequent. A subset of patients is salvageable, and high-dose re-irradiation should be considered in selected patients.

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