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PLoS One. 2018 Jul 6;13(7):e0200137. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200137. eCollection 2018.

Systematic review and meta-analyses of intensity-modulated radiation therapy versus conventional two-dimensional and/or or three-dimensional radiotherapy in curative-intent management of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, ACTREC/TMH, Tata Memorial Centre, Homi Bhabha National Institute (HBNI), Mumbai, India.
Clinical Research Secretariat (CRS), ACTREC, Tata Memorial Centre, HBNI, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.



Technological advancements in treatment planning and delivery have propelled the use of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). This review compares IMRT with conventional two-dimensional (2D) and/or three-dimensional (3D) radiotherapy (RT) in curative-intent management of HNSCC.


Only randomized controlled trials (RCTs) offering curative-intent RT in patients with non-metastatic HNSCC were included. Outcome data was extracted independently by two reviewers, pooled using the Cochrane methodology, and expressed as risk ratio (RR) or hazard ratio (HR) as appropriate with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Xerostomia was the primary outcome of interest whereas loco-regional control, overall survival and quality-of-life (QOL) were secondary endpoints.


Seven RCTs involving 1155 patients directly comparing IMRT with 2D/3D-RT in HNSCC were included. The primary objective in five of seven index RCTs was reduction in xerostomia, with only one trial each using loco-regional control and overall survival as primary endpoints for sample size calculation. The use of IMRT was associated with a 36% relative risk reduction in ≥grade 2 acute xerostomia (RR = 0.64, 95%CI = 0.49-0.84; p = 0.001) compared to 2D/3D-RT. More importantly, IMRT significantly reduced the risk of ≥grade 2 late xerostomia (RR = 0.44, 95%CI = 0.34-0.57; p = 0.00001) compared to non-IMRT techniques at all time-points. Within the limitations of inadequate sample size and low statistical power, IMRT also resulted in 24% relative reduction in the risk of loco-regional relapse (HR = 0.76, 0.57-1.01; p = 0.06) and 30% relative reduction in risk of death (HR = 0.70, 95%CI = 0.57-0.88; p = 0.002) compared to 2D/3D-RT. However, this benefit of IMRT for loco-regional control and overall survival was limited to nasopharyngeal cancer patients alone, with no significant difference in efficacy between the two techniques in patients with cancers of the laryngo-pharynx in this analysis, highlighting the inconsistency in results of subgroup analyses stratified by primary site. Inadequate reporting of data precluded statistically pooling of results for QOL outcomes.


There is consistent moderate-quality evidence that IMRT significantly reduces the risk of moderate to severe acute and late xerostomia compared to 2D/3D-RT in curative-intent radiotherapeutic management of HNSCC. However, the quality of evidence regarding the superiority of IMRT over conventional techniques for disease-related endpoints is rather low due to relative lack of power and inconsistency of results precluding robust conclusions.

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