The dominant pattern of failure for squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck remains loco-regional, although distant metastases are now being increasingly documented. Radical radiotherapy with concurrent chemotherapy is contemporary standard of care in the non-surgical management of these loco-regionally advanced cancers, based on large randomized controlled trials utilizing high-dose cisplatin (80–100 mg/m2) cycled every three-weekly during definitive radiotherapy. Although efficacious, this is associated with high acute morbidity necessitating intensive supportive care with attendant resource implications. The aim of this retrospective study was to assess the efficacy and acute toxicity of an alternative schedule i.e. concurrent weekly cisplatin-based radical radiotherapy and it's potential to be an optimal regimen in advanced head and neck cancers.
Outcome data of patients with Stage III & IV head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, excluding nasopharynx, planned for radical radiotherapy (66–70 Gy) with concurrent weekly cisplatin (30 mg/m2) treated in a single unit between 1996–2004 was extracted.
The dataset consisted of 264 patients with a median age of 54 years. The median radiotherapy dose was 70 Gy (range 7.2–72 Gy) and median number of chemotherapy cycles was 6 (range 1–7). Two-thirds (65%) of patients received ≥85% of planned cisplatin dose. With a mean follow-up of 19 months, the 5-year local control; loco-regional control; and disease free survival was 57%; 46%; and 43% respectively. Acute grade 3 or worse mucositis and dermatitis was seen in 77 (29%) and 92 (35%) patients respectively, essentially in patients receiving doses ≥66 Gy and 6 or more cycles of chemotherapy. Other toxicities (hematologic, nausea and vomiting) were mild and self-limiting. Overall, the acute toxicity of this concurrent weekly chemo-radiation regimen though mildly increased did not mandate intensive supportive care. Stage grouping, primary site, and intensity of treatment were significant predictors of loco-regional control and disease free survival.
Radical radiotherapy with concurrent weekly cisplatin has moderate efficacy and acceptable acute toxicity with potential to be an optimal regimen in loco-regionally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, particularly in limited-resource settings. Stage grouping, primary site, and treatment intensity are important determinants of outcome.