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The impact of radiation therapy in patients with systemic sclerosis and head and neck cancer.

OBJECTIVE: Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is considered a relative, or in some cases, absolute contraindication for radiation therapy for various cancers; however, radiation is standard of care and the best option for tumor control for locally advanced head and neck (H&N) cancer. We present a case series to document the post-radiation outcomes in patients with SSc and H&N cancer.

METHODS: Patients with SSc and H&N cancer treated with radiation were identified from two large Scleroderma Center research registries. Through chart review, we identified whether patients developed pre-determined acute and late side effects or changes in SSc activity from radiation. We further describe therapies used to prevent and treat radiation-induced fibrosis.

RESULTS: Thirteen patients with SSc who received radiation therapy for H&N cancer were included. Five-year survival was 54%. Nine patients (69%) developed local radiation-induced skin thickening and seven (54%) developed reduced neck range of motion. Two patients required long-term percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy use due to radiation therapy complications. No patients required respiratory support related to radiation therapy. Regarding SSc disease activity among the patients with established SSc prior to radiation therapy, none experienced interstitial lung disease progression in the post-radiation period. Following radiation, one patient had worsening skin disease outside the radiation field, however, this patient was within the first year of SSc when progressive skin disease is expected. Treatment strategies to prevent radiation fibrosis included pentoxifylline, amifostine and vitamin E, while intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) was used to treat it.

CONCLUSION: While some patients with SSc who received radiation for H&N cancer developed localized skin thickening and reduced neck range of motion, systemic flares of SSc were uncommon. This observational study provides evidence to support the use of radiation therapy for H&N cancer in patients with SSc when radiation is the best treatment option.

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