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Head Neck. 1999 Jul;21(4):346-54.

Radiation induced sarcoma of the head and neck.

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Head and Neck Unit, The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, United Kingdom.



Radiation-induced sarcoma of the head and neck (RISHN) is a long-term complication of treatment. The rarity of this tumour is reflected in the very few series reported in the English language medical literature. The incidence of RISHN is, however, likely to increase due to progressive aging of the population combined with improved survival in head and neck cancer patients resulting from better treatment regimes. Diagnosis and management of this problem can be extremely challenging and the overall outlook has been reported to be very bleak. As survival data from isolated case reports cannot be expected to provide reliable information on outcome, we have reviewed 69 cases reported in the English medical literature since 1966 and pooled this information with our experience in treatment of RISHN.


Ten patients with features of a RISHN were treated at the Royal Marsden Hospital between 1944 and 1997. The features of RISHN, treatment, and outcome were analysed in these patients. Additionally, 61 eligible patients with RISHN reported in the literature between 1966 and 1997 were pooled with nine of our patients to form the RISHN group (n = 70). This group was then compared for survival with 124 patients with a diagnosis of head and neck sarcoma registered on the Head and Neck Sarcoma database at the Royal Marsden Hospital (SHN group). Lifetables were constructed using the Kaplan-Meier method and compared using the log-rank test.


There was no site of predilection for RISHN, but malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) was the commonest pathological diagnosis. The period of latency between initial radiation therapy and diagnosis of RISHN ranged from 9 to 45 years with a median of 17 years. Surgery was the mainstay of treatment and follow-up ranged from 6 months to 15 years with a median of 48 months. The actuarial five-year disease free survival in these patients was 60%.


There is at present little or no prospect for effective prevention of RISHN and therefore, a high index of suspicion based on the patient's symptoms assumes great importance in the outcome of these patients. Although surgical management of RISHN is challenging because of the close proximity of the tumour to important regional structures and the technical difficulties of operating in an irradiated area, complete surgical excision appears to offer the best means for palliation and the only realistic chance for long-term survival.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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