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Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Mar 15;10(6):1956-62.

Competing causes of death and second primary tumors in patients with locoregionally advanced head and neck cancer treated with chemoradiotherapy.

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  • 1The Feinberg School of Medicine and the Robert H Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.



The purpose of this retrospective analysis was to evaluate the emergence of second primary malignancies and the contribution of different causes of death to the outcome of patients with locoregionally advanced head and cancer receiving primary chemoradiotherapy.


We studied 324 patients with stage IV squamous cell head and neck cancer who were enrolled on five consecutive multicenter Phase II studies of concurrent chemoradiotherapy. All of the regimens included concurrent 5-fluorouracil and hydroxyurea on an alternate week schedule with radiotherapy, either alone (FHX) or with cisplatin (C-FHX) or paclitaxel (T-FHX). The cumulative incidence of second primary tumors or death from any cause was estimated using methods of competing risk analysis.


Median follow-up of surviving patients was 5.2 years (2-10.6 years). The 5-year overall survival and progression-free survival of the cohort were 46% and 65%, respectively. Causes of death and median time of occurrence were as follows: disease (n = 88; 1.5 years), treatment-associated acute or late complications (n = 30; 4 months), second primary tumors (n = 18; 3.5 years), comorbidities (n = 41; 1.9 years), and unknown (n = 20; 5.1 years). Predominant causes of death from comorbidities were cardiac and respiratory illnesses. Twenty-six patients (8%) developed a second primary tumor at a median time of 2.8 years (4 months to 10 years). The cumulative incidence of second primary tumors was 5%, 7%, and 13% at 3, 5, and 10 years, respectively. The most frequent site of second primaries was the lung (n = 13), followed by the esophagus (n = 3) and head and neck (n = 2)


Patients with locoregionally advanced head and neck cancer treated with concurrent chemoradiotherapy are potentially curable but face significant risks of mortality from causes other than disease progression. Ameliorating toxicity, and implementing secondary screening and chemoprevention strategies are major goals in the management of head and neck cancer.

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