Advanced radiotherapy ‘improves survival’ for head and neck cancer patients

In collaboration with the Press Association

An advanced type of radiotherapy could improve survival for head and neck cancer patients compared to conventional radiotherapy treatment, US research suggests.

“IMRT is a big advance in treatment for head and neck cancer. This latest research gives a strong indication that it’s better at stopping cancer coming back and leads to better survival than conventional radiotherapy." - Professor Christopher Nutting, The Royal Marsden Hospital

Conventional radiotherapy for head and neck cancer can cause side effects such as a dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and weakened bones. 

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced technique designed to precisely target tumours while sparing normal tissue.

A previous Cancer Research UK study showed that IMRT causes fewer cases of dry mouth than standard treatment, but it was not known whether IMRT impacts patient survival rates. 

The latest study, published in the journal Cancer, shows that IMRT may also improve survival for patients with head and neck cancer. 

Dr Beth Beadle, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, and her co-workers analysed a database of 3,172 patients treated for head and neck cancer across the US between 1999 and 2007. 

40 months after treatment, 84.1 per cent of patients who received IMRT were still alive, compared to 66 per cent of patients treated with conventional radiotherapy.

Dr Beadle said: “This analysis revealed that patients treated with IMRT have less cancer-related deaths than those treated with traditional techniques. So, not only do they have fewer side effects, but they also have fewer life-threatening recurrences."

Professor Christopher Nutting, an expert in radiotherapy from The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “IMRT is a big advance in treatment for head and neck cancer. We already knew that it can help reduce side effects, and this latest research gives a strong indication that it’s better at stopping cancer coming back and leads to better survival than conventional radiotherapy.

“IMRT more accurately targets high doses of radiation to the tumour, so it makes sense that it should be more effective. As more hospitals start using IMRT to treat head and neck cancer, we will be in a better position to gauge the true survival benefits for patients.”

Copyright Press Association 2014

References

  • Beadle B, et al. (2014). Improved survival using intensity-modulated radiation therapy in head and neck cancers: A SEER-Medicare analysis, Cancer, DOI: