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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2007 Jul 1;68(3):731-40. Epub 2007 Mar 26.

Salvage re-irradiation for recurrent head and neck cancer.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021, USA.



To present a retrospective review of treatment outcomes for recurrent head and neck (HN) cancer patients treated with re-irradiation (re-RT) at a single medical center.


From July 1996-September 2005, 105 patients with recurrent HN cancer underwent re-RT at our institution. Sites included were: the neck (n = 21), nasopharynx (n = 21), paranasal sinus (n = 18), oropharynx (n = 16), oral cavity (n = 9), larynx (n = 10), parotid (n = 6), and hypopharynx (n = 4). The median prior RT dose was 62 Gy. Seventy-five patients received chemotherapy with their re-RT (platinum-based in the majority of cases). The median re-RT dose was 59.4 Gy. In 74 (70%), re-RT utilized intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).


With a median follow-up of 35 months, 18 patients were alive with no evidence of disease. The 2-year loco-regional progression-free survival (LRPFS) and overall survival rates were 42% and 37%, respectively. Patients who underwent IMRT, compared to those who did not, had a better 2-year LRPF (52% vs. 20%, p < 0.001). On multivariate analysis, non-nasopharynx and non-IMRT were associated with an increased risk of loco-regional (LR) failure. Patients with LR progression-free disease had better 2-year overall survival vs. those with LR failure (56% vs. 21%, p < 0.001). Acute and late Grade 3-4 toxicities were reported in 23% and 15% of patients. Severe Grade 3-4 late complications were observed in 12 patients, with a median time to development of 6 months after re-RT.


Based on our data, achieving LR control is crucial for improved overall survival in this patient population. The use of IMRT predicted better LR tumor control. Future aggressive efforts in maximizing tumor control in the recurrent setting, including dose escalation with IMRT and improved chemotherapy, are warranted.

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