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Head Neck. 1996 May-Jun;18(3):229-35.

Salvage surgery after radiotherapy failure in T1-T2 squamous cell carcinoma of the glottic larynx.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, USA.



This study was undertaken to analyze the clinical course of patients who developed local (primary) recurrence after high-dose irradiation of T1 -T2 squamous cell carcinoma of the glottic larynx.


Between May 1977 and December 1989, 247 patients with previously untreated T1 and T2 invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the glottic larynx were treated for curative intent with radiotherapy. Local recurrence occurred in 26 of 247 patients (11%). Successful surgical salvage was defined as no evidence of recurrent cancer for at least 2 years after salvage surgery and continuously thereafter.


Two patients refused to undergo salvage surgery and one patient had unresectable disease. Of 23 patients who underwent salvage surgery, 19 had a total laryngectomy and 4 had a voice-sparing procedure. One patient who was continuously free of disease, died less than 24 months after salvage surgery; this patient was excluded from all local control and survival analyses, leaving 22 patients available for analysis. Successful salvage was achieved initially in 13 (59%) of the 22 patients. Two patients with local failure after voice-sparing salvage surgery underwent completion laryngectomy; one was salvaged, so that 14 of 22 (64%) were ultimately salvaged. The rate of successful salvage did not correlate with preirradiation T stage, time to failure after irradiation, or time from clinical suspicion of recurrence to histologic proof. In a subgroup of patients (those with positive margins, tumor extension into the soft tissues of the neck, or two or more adverse histologic features), the risk of local-regional recurrence after salvage laryngectomy was 80%.


There are few data in the literature regarding the clinical outcome of patients whose tumors are not controlled by initial radiotherapy. This series and previous publications from other institutions indicate that most patients who develop primary failure undergo salvage surgery, which is successful in approximately 50-80% of the patients. The rate of surgical complications is acceptable and is related to radiotherapy dose. At our institution, most patients who had recurrence after radiotherapy underwent total laryngectomy. More than 50% of the patients who experienced recurrence after irradiation originally had tumors of such extent that they would have required total laryngectomy if surgery had been recommended instead of radiotherapy for the initial treatment. It is reasonable to consider reirradiation in patients with a very high risk of local-regional recurrence after salvage laryngectomy.

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