Radiotherapy for the management of locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck


D Citrin, Radiation Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Building 10, CRC, B2-3500, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA. Tel: +1 301 496 5457, Fax: +1 301 480 1064, E-mail:


Background:  Squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN) affect approximately 35 000 people in the United States yearly. Although survival has improved with advances in therapy, patients with advanced stages of SCCHN continue to have a poor prognosis. An understanding of rationale for treatment selection, newer developments in therapy, and treatment toxicity is critical.

Methods:  Standard methods of treating locally advanced SCCHN are reviewed. Advances in medical and radiotherapeutic management are discussed and the toxicities of therapy are described.

Results:  Postoperative chemoradiation is used in patients with high-risk characteristics. Induction chemotherapy and altered fractionation radiation treatment have been evaluated as alternatives to definitive chemo-radiotherapy. Targeted agents such as cetuximab may prove to increase survival with minimal increase in toxicity profile. Technological improvements such as the use of intensity-modulated radiation treatment have proven to decrease some debilitating side effects from radiation treatment.

Conclusions:  Locally advanced SCCHN continues to present a therapeutic challenge. Survival, local control, and quality of life are all goals of treatment. The optimal method of treating locally advanced SCCHN is the subject of ongoing research. Long-term side effects can be minimized with the use of newer technologies and with careful treatment planning.