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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011 Nov 1;81(3):e111-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2011.01.004. Epub 2011 Feb 28.

Reirradiation for head-and-neck cancer: delicate balance between effectiveness and toxicity.

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Maastricht University Medical Center, Department of Radiation Oncology (MAASTRO clinic), GROW School for Oncology and Developmental Biology, Dr. Tanslaan 12, 6229 ET Maastricht, The Netherlands.



To analyze the effectiveness and toxicity of reirradiation (re-RT) for head-and-neck cancer.


A retrospective data analysis was performed of 58 patients who underwent re-RT with curative intent. Re-RT was given as definitive treatment in 53% of patients, whereas salvage surgery preceded reirradiation in 47%. The median cumulative RT dose was 119 Gy (range, 76-140). Concurrent chemotherapy was administered with re-RT (CRT) in 57% of patients. Event-free survival was defined as survival without recurrence and without serious toxicity (≥Grade 3).


Median follow-up was 57 months (range, 9-140). Locoregional (LR) control was 50% at 2 and 5 years. The 2-year and 5-year overall survival (OS) was 42% and 34%. The following factors were associated with improved OS: postoperative re-RT (vs. primary re-RT), treatment with RT only (vs. CRT) and interval >3 years between previous RT and re-RT. For patients treated with postoperative re-RT and definitive re-RT, the 5-year OS was 49% and 20%, respectively. Patients treated with CRT had a 5-year OS of 13%. Serious (late) toxicity ≥Grade 3 was observed in 20 of 47 evaluable patients (43%). Three cases of treatment-related death were recorded. The 2- and 5-year serious toxicity-free interval was 59% and 55%, respectively. Associated with increased risk of serious toxicity were CRT and higher re-RT dose. The event-free survival rates at 2 and 5 years were 34% and 31%, respectively.


Re-RT in head-and-neck cancer is associated with poor survival rates of 13-20% in patients with inoperable disease treated with primary (chemo-) re-RT. For this subgroup, however, no other curative options are available. Long-term disease control and survival can be achieved in patients who receive re-RT as an adjunct to surgical resection. The rates of serious toxicity after re-RT are high, with an incidence of approximately 45% at 5 years. Approximately 1 in 3 patients survived re-RT without recurrence and severe complications.

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