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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011 Aug 1;80(5):1405-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2010.04.029. Epub 2010 Dec 20.

Efficacy and toxicity of chemoradiotherapy using intensity-modulated radiotherapy for unknown primary of head and neck.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



No single standard treatment paradigm is available for head-and-neck squamous cell carcinoma of an unknown primary (HNCUP). Bilateral neck radiotherapy with mucosal axis irradiation is widely used, with or without chemotherapy and/or surgical resection. Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) is a highly conformal method for delivering radiation that is becoming the standard of care and might reduce the long-term treatment-related sequelae. We report the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute experience with IMRT-based treatment for HNCUP.


A retrospective study of all patients treated at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for HNCUP with IMRT between August 2004 and January 2009. The primary endpoint was overall survival; the secondary endpoints were locoregional and distant control, and acute and chronic toxicity.


A total of 24 patients with HNCUP were included. Of these patients, 22 had Stage N2 disease or greater. All patients underwent neck computed tomography, positron emission tomography-computed tomography, and examination under anesthesia with directed biopsies. Of the 24 patients, 22 received concurrent chemotherapy, and 7 (29%) also underwent induction chemotherapy. The median involved nodal dose was 70 Gy, and the median mucosal dose was 60 Gy. With a median follow-up of 2.1 years, the 2-year actuarial overall survival and locoregional control rate was 92% and 100%, respectively. Only 25% of the patients had Grade 2 xerostomia, although 11 patients (46%) required esophageal dilation for stricture.


In a single-institution series, IMRT-based chemoradiotherapy for HNCUP was associated with superb overall survival and locoregional control. The xerostomia rates were promising, but the aggressive therapy was associated with significant rates of esophageal stenosis.

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