Report on late toxicity in head-and-neck tumor patients with long term survival after radiochemotherapy

Anna Maria Stefanie Buchberger, Elmar Anton Strzelczyk, Barbara Wollenberg, Stephanie Elisabeth Combs, Anja Pickhard, Steffi Ulrike Pigorsch

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7 Scopus citations


Regular tumor follow-up care provided by ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialists ends when patients reach 5-year survival, but radiotoxicity is a continuous lifelong process. In this study, long-term head-and-neck cancer (HNC) survivors undergoing tumor follow-up (FU) care exceeding five years in a certified HNC center of a German university hospital were analyzed for newly diagnosed late sequelae after radio-(chemo-)therapy. Patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the oral cavity, larynx or oro-/hypopharynx receiving treatment between 1990 and 2010 with a tumor FU care beyond five years were reviewed retrospectively for signs of late sequelae after radio-(chemo-)therapy (R(C)T) including carotid artery stenosis, stenosis of the cranial esophagus, dysphagia, osteoradionecrosis, and secondary malignancies. Long-term survivors that solely received surgical treatment served as control. Of 1143 analyzed patients we identified 407 patients with an overall survival beyond five years, 311 with R(C)T and 96 patients without R(C)T. Furthermore, 221/1143 patients were lost to FU and the mortality rate within the first 5-years was 45%. Moreover, 27.7% of the long-term survivors were diagnosed with new onset late sequelae within the following five years. RT was significantly associated with a two-fold risk increase for newly diagnosed symptoms, especially after RT of the lymphatic pathways (LP) which showed a hazard ratio of 23.3 to develop alterations on the carotid arteries. Additional chemotherapy had no statistical correlation with any late onset toxicity nor did the mode of R(C)T (adjuvant/definitive). Although the validity of this study might be limited due to its retrospective nature and the dependence on the voluntary participation in a prolonged tumor FU, the results nevertheless provide the need to offer and encourage a tumor FU by ENT specialists exceeding the common 5-year margin. This could prevent secondary morbidities and improve quality of life for long-term cancer survivors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4292
Issue number17
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Head-and-neck tumor patient
  • Late toxicity
  • Late-onset radiotoxicity
  • Long-term survival
  • Radio-(chemo-) therapy


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