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Ann Thorac Surg. 2011 Sep;92(3):1056-60; discussion 1060-1. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2011.03.146.

Previous head and neck cancers portend poor prognoses in lung cancer patients.

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  • 1Department of Dentistry and Maxillofacial Prosthetics, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York 14263, USA.



Although a common clinical pairing, the epidemiology and prognosis of lung cancer (LC) after head and neck cancer (HNC) is not well described.


Data from the database of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program were used to study the epidemiology and survival of patients with LC after HNC. These data were compared with those from our institutional cancer registry.


Of all patients with a history of HNC in the SEER database, 8,225 (5%) patients went on to develop LC. This was more than three times the incidence of second primary lung cancers (1.5%). Subsequent LCs in patients with a history of HNC were more common among those with hypopharyngeal and laryngeal cancer and those with localized HNC. Patients with HNC followed by LC had poorer overall survival than did the overall population of patients with LCs in the SEER database. Overall survival after the onset of LC was dismal (median survival, 8 months). Survival was not affected by histologic concordance between HNC and LC. An analysis of 72 patients with LC after HNC reported in our institutional tumor registry over the past 37 years yielded similar results.


Of patients who survive LC or HNC, the latter are much more likely to develop a new pulmonary malignancy. Lung cancers that develop after HNC have a poor prognosis. This phenomenon is not explained by misclassified metastases, because histologically discordant cases behave just as poorly. Enhanced surveillance and chemoprevention strategies are needed to detect and prevent subsequent primary LC in survivors of HNC.

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