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Keywords:

  • oropharyngeal neoplasms;
  • squamous cell carcinoma;
  • surgery;
  • radiotherapy;
  • combined-modality therapy;
  • treatment outcome

Abstract

BACKGROUND

The treatment of patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the oropharynx remains controversial. No randomized trial has addressed adequately the question of whether surgery (S), radiation therapy (RT), or combined treatment is most effective.

METHODS

Treatment results from North American academic institutions that used S with or without adjuvant RT (S ± RT) or used RT alone or followed by neck dissection (RT ± ND) for patients with SCC of the tonsillar region or the base of tongue were compiled through a MEDLINE search (from 1970 to August, 2000) and from the references cited in each report. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they contained direct, actuarial (life-table), or Kaplan–Meier calculations for the following end points: local control, local-regional control, 5-year absolute survival, 5-year cause specific survival, or severe or fatal treatment complications. Weighted average results, which took into account series size, were calculated for each end point for the purposes of treatment comparison. Results and conclusions were based on data from 51 reported series, representing the treatment of approximately 6400 patients from the United States and Canada.

RESULTS

The results for patients with SCC of the base of tongue who underwent S ± RT versus RT ± ND, respectively, were as follows: local control, 79% versus 76% (P = 0.087); local-regional control, 60% versus 69% (P = 0.009); 5-year survival, 49% versus 52% (P = 0.2); 5-year cause specific survival, 62% versus 63% (P = 0.4); severe complications, 32% versus 3.8% (P < 0.001); and fatal complications, 3.5% versus 0.4% (P < 0.001). The results for patients with SCC in the tonsillar region who underwent S ± RT versus RT ± ND, respectively, were as follows: local control, 70% versus 68% (P = 0.2); local-regional control, 65% versus 69% (P = 0.1); 5-year survival, 47% versus 43% (P = 0.2); 5-year cause specific survival, 57% versus 59% (P = 0.3); severe complications, 23% versus 6% (P < 0.001); and fatal complications, 3.2% versus 0.8% (P < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

The information in this article provides a useful benchmark for evidence-based counseling of patients with SCC of the oropharynx. The rates of local control, local-regional control, 5-year survival, and 5-year cause specific survival were similar for patients who underwent S ± RT or RT ± ND, whereas the rates of severe or fatal complications were significantly greater for the S ± RT group. Furthermore, available data on the functional consequences of treatment suggest the superiority of RT ± ND. The authors conclude that RT ± ND is preferable for the majority of patients with SCC of the oropharynx. Cancer 2002;94:2967–80. © 2002 American Cancer Society.

DOI 10.1002/cncr.10567