Get access

Definitive radiotherapy with interstitial implant boost for squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue base




The purpose of this study was to examine the long-term outcome of a cohort of patients with unresected base of tongue carcinoma who received interstitial brachytherapy after comprehensive external beam radiation therapy.


Between 1983 and 2000, 122 patients with primary or recurrent squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx or oral cavity received interstitial brachytherapy as part of their overall management. Forty patients had primary, unresected carcinoma of the base of tongue and are the subjects of this analysis. The median age was 54 years. Fifty-four percent had T3 or T4 disease, and 70% had clinical or radiographic lymphadenopathy. Twenty-four (60%) received two to three cycles of neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The oropharynx, bilateral neck, and supraclavicular fossae were comprehensively irradiated, and the tongue base received a median external beam dose of 61.2 Gy (50–72 Gy). The primary site was then boosted with an interstitial 192Iridium implant by use of a gold-button single-strand technique and three-dimensional treatment planning. The dose rate was prescribed at 0.4 to 0.5 Gy/hr. The median implant dose was 17.4 Gy (9.6–24 Gy) and adjusted to reach a total dose to the primary tumor of 80 Gy. N2 to 3 disease was managed by a planned neck dissection performed at the time of the implant.


The median follow-up for all patients was 56 months, and the overall survival rates were 62% at 5 years and 27% at 10 years. The actuarial primary site control was 78% at 5 years and 70% at 10 years. The overall survival and primary site control were independent of T classification, N status, or overall stage. Systemic therapy was associated with an improvement in overall survival (p = .04) and a trend toward increased primary site control with greater clinical response. There were seven documented late effects, the most frequent being grade 3 osteonecrosis (n = 2), grade 2 swallowing dysfunction (n = 2), trismus (n = 2), and chronic throat pain (n = 1).


In an era of greatly improved dose distributions made possible by three-dimensional treatment planning and intensity-modulated radiation therapy, brachytherapy allows a highly conformal dose to be delivered in sites such as the oropharynx. If done properly, the procedure is safe and delivers a dose that is higher than what can be achieved by external beam radiation alone with the expected biologic advantages. The long-term data presented here support an approach of treating advanced tongue base lesions that includes interstitial brachytherapy as part of the overall management plan. This approach has led to a 78% rate of organ preservation at 5 years, with a 5% incidence of significant late morbidity (osteonecrosis) that has required medical management. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck27: XXX–XXX, 2005