Management of nonsinonasal neuroendocrine carcinomas of the head and neck




Nonsinonasal neuroendocrine carcinomas (NSNEC) of the head and neck are rare and pose a diagnostic and management challenge. The authors undertook a retrospective study to gain insights into the spectrum of clinicopathologic characteristics, patterns of failure, and optimal management of patients with this disease.


The authors treated 23 adults with pathologically proven, nonmetastatic, primary NSNEC from 1984 to 2001. The majority (13 patients) had laryngeal origin with the following American Joint Committee on Cancer stage distribution: Stage I disease in 1 patient, Stage II disease in 2 patients, Stage III disease in 6 patients, and Stage IV disease in 14 patients. Nine patients underwent definitive surgery with or without postoperative radiation, and 14 patients received definitive radiotherapy. The median definitive radiation dose was 66 grays (Gy) (range, 44–72 Gy) using conventional fractionation. Fourteen patients received chemotherapy, with two to four cycles of induction platinum plus etoposide used most commonly.


The median follow-up time for surviving patients was 40 months (range, 15–89 months). The actuarial 2-year and 5-year overall survival (OS) rates were 53% and 33%, respectively; and the disease-free survival (DFS) rates were 41% and 25%, respectively. Both the 2-year OS rate (68% vs. 30%; P = 0.002) and the 2-year DFS rate (55% vs. 17%; P = 0.004) were improved with chemotherapy compared with local therapy alone. Seventy-five percent of patients with measurable disease had complete clinical responses to induction chemotherapy. There was 100% complete clinical response of tumor after radiotherapy. The actuarial 2-year local failure rate was 23%. Chemotherapy did not reduce local failure (P = 0.91). There was no regional failure. The 2-year and 5-year distant metastasis rates were 54% and 71%, respectively. The 2-year rates of metastases without and with chemotherapy were 79% and 39%, respectively (P = 0.006). The 2-year and 5-year rates of intracranial metastases were 25% and 44%, respectively, and the 2-year and 5-year rates of isolated brain metastases were 21% and 41%, respectively.


Based on these results, the authors' treatment strategy for patients with NSNEC is sequential chemotherapy and radiation. They recommend full-dose radiotherapy alone for patients with NSNEC who achieve a complete clinical response to induction chemotherapy. Newer chemotherapeutic regimens or additional adjuvant chemotherapy should be investigated for patients with NSNEC given the high rate of distant failure. Due to the very high rate of brain metastases among patients in the current study, the authors now consider incorporating prophylactic cranial irradiation into primary radiotherapy for individual patients who have complete clinical responses to induction chemotherapy. Cancer 2003. © 2003 American Cancer Society.