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Oropharyngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 12/12/2013

Treatment Option Overview

On attempting to define the optimal therapeutic approach to the oropharynx, it becomes clear that no single therapeutic regimen offers a clear-cut superior survival over other regimens. The literature is filled with reports highlighting various therapeutic options but does not contain reports presenting any valid comparative studies of therapeutic options. The ultimate therapeutic choice will depend on a careful review of each individual case, paying attention to the staging of the neoplasm, the general physical condition of the patient, the emotional status of the patient, the experience of the treating team, and the available treatment facilities.

A review of published, clinical results of radical radiation therapy for head and neck cancer suggests a significant loss of local control when the administration of radiation therapy was prolonged; therefore, lengthening of standard treatment schedules should be avoided whenever possible.[1,2] Patients who smoke during treatment with radiation therapy appear to have lower response rates and shorter survival durations than those who do not;[3] therefore, patients should be counseled to stop smoking before beginning radiation therapy. The posttherapy performance status of patients with base-of-tongue primary tumors appears to be better following radiation therapy than following surgery. Local control and survival is similar in both, which suggests that radiation therapy may be superior.[4,5]

Accumulating evidence has demonstrated a high incidence (i.e., >30%–40%) of hypothyroidism in patients who have received external-beam radiation therapy to the entire thyroid gland or to the pituitary gland. Thyroid function testing of patients should be considered prior to therapy and as part of posttreatment follow-up.[6,7]

References
  1. Fowler JF, Lindstrom MJ: Loss of local control with prolongation in radiotherapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 23 (2): 457-67, 1992.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Allal AS, de Pree C, Dulguerov P, et al.: Avoidance of treatment interruption: an unrecognized benefit of accelerated radiotherapy in oropharyngeal carcinomas? Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 45 (1): 41-5, 1999.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Browman GP, Wong G, Hodson I, et al.: Influence of cigarette smoking on the efficacy of radiation therapy in head and neck cancer. N Engl J Med 328 (3): 159-63, 1993.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Harrison LB, Zelefsky MJ, Armstrong JG, et al.: Performance status after treatment for squamous cell cancer of the base of tongue--a comparison of primary radiation therapy versus primary surgery. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 30 (4): 953-7, 1994.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Mendenhall WM, Morris CG, Amdur RJ, et al.: Definitive radiotherapy for squamous cell carcinoma of the base of tongue. Am J Clin Oncol 29 (1): 32-9, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Turner SL, Tiver KW, Boyages SC: Thyroid dysfunction following radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 31 (2): 279-83, 1995.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Constine LS: What else don't we know about the late effects of radiation in patients treated for head and neck cancer? Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 31 (2): 427-9, 1995.  [PUBMED Abstract]