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Semin Radiat Oncol. 2010 Jan;20(1):52-7. doi: 10.1016/j.semradonc.2009.09.004.

Head and neck carcinomas across the age spectrum: epidemiology, therapy, and late effects.

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  • 1Division of Radiation Oncology, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Carcinomas of the head and neck occur in both children and adults, but notable differences exist in their relative frequency, pathologic subtypes, etiologies, presenting symptoms, and late effects. In contrast, treatment strategies are similar depending on the disease type and distribution at the time of diagnosis. Thus, in adult patients, squamous cell carcinomas or one of its variants are the most common malignancies in the head and neck. However, in children, cancers of the head/neck are most commonly rhabdomyosarcomas, lymphomas, including Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphoblastic lymphomas, and Burkitt's lymphoma or neuroblastoma. Epithelial cancers are unusual in the pediatric population, with the exception of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Although nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a rare disease in children, representing less than 1% of childhood cancers, it does constitute 20%-50% of pediatric malignancies of the nasopharynx. This is one of the few malignant tumors in children that arise from the epithelium. Despite the differences between the diseases in children from that in adults, the management strategy has been based largely on the experience in adults. This review will describe the epidemiology, etiology, management, and late effects in children and adults, and offer explanations for both the similarities and differences.

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