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Semin Radiat Oncol. 2004 Apr;14(2):190-5.

Treatment of recurrent and advanced stage squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

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University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, FL 33136, USA.


Despite advances in our ability to safely treat patients with recurrent cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract, outcomes for retreatment are generally poor and the first chance to cure these patients remains the best chance. Thorough knowledge of the outlook and options for patients with recurrent disease is also of significance in choosing therapy for patients with newly diagnosed disease. This is especially true for newly diagnosed patients making the choice between surgery and nonsurgical ("organ-sparing") options, who need to know the outlook for salvage surgery, should they recur after radiation with or without concomitant chemotherapy. Salvage surgery is generally the best option for previously irradiated patients who are faced with resectable, recurrent disease. Unfortunately, the results of surgical salvage are generally poor for patients with advanced stage recurrence and for those who recur after treatment of advanced disease. The site of initial and recurrent disease is important. Surgical salvage is most effective for patients with recurrent laryngeal cancer, least effective for recurrent cancer of the pharynx, and is intermediate for recurrence in the oral cavity. Patients choosing nonsurgical treatment for newly diagnosed cancer of the pharynx cannot rely on salvage surgery in the event of recurrence. Reirraditation for patients who have failed initial treatment that included radiation therapy has been used at a number of institutions with some success. Experience using reirradiation with or without concomitant chemotherapy continues to evolve. Palliative chemotherapy is an option for most patients, but response rates are generally poor and of short duration, after failure of initial treatment that includes radiation therapy. The best approach for many patients and families who face advanced recurrent disease is honest but compassionate communication and supportive care with the help of a hospice organization.

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