According to an article published in The Lancet, fractionated radiation therapy improves survival over conventional radiation therapy for patients with squamous cell head and neck cancer.
Head and neck cancer originates in sites within the head or neck. The American Cancer Society estimated that 11,000 individuals died from head and neck cancer in the United States in 2005. The most common type of head and neck cancer is squamous cell head and neck cancer, which refers to the type of cell from which the cancer originated.
Radiation therapy remains an important component in the treatment of head and neck cancer. Researchers continue to evaluate optimal types of radiation delivery and schedules for the treatment of this disease. Hyperfractionated radiation therapy refers to radiation therapy that is given two to three times per day, versus the conventional once-per-day dosing.
Hyperfractionated radiation therapy utilizes smaller doses with each administration than doses used with the once-daily administration. Accelerated radiation therapy refers to radiation that is administered over a shorter duration of time than conventional radiation. The doses with hyperfractionated or accelerated radiation therapy may be increased overall, may stay equal, or may be reduced compared to conventional radiation therapy.
Researchers on behalf of the Meta-Analysis of Radiotherapy in Carcinomas of Head and Neck (MARCH) Collaborative Group recently compiled and analyzed data from 15 clinical trials evaluating different radiation schedules and doses for the treatment of squamous cell head and neck cancer. The majority of patients had advanced head and neck cancer.
- Hyperfractionated radiation therapy improved survival by 8% at five years compared to conventional radiation therapy.
- Accelerated radiation therapy improved survival by 2% at five years compared to conventional radiation therapy.
- The benefits achieved were greatest for youngest patients.
The researchers concluded that hyperfractionated radiation therapy improves survival over conventional radiation therapy in the treatment of head and neck cancers. The authors state that further study is necessary to determine exactly which types and schedules of the fractionated radiation therapy provide the most benefit for these patients.
Patients diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the head and neck may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of different types of radiation schedules.
Reference: Bourhis J, Overgaard J, Audry H, et al. Hyperfractionated or Accelerated Radiotherapy in Head and Neck Cancer: a Meta-Analysis. The Lancet. 2006. Early online publication. August 17. DOI: DOI:10.1016.