Pretreatment anemia is correlated with the reduced effectiveness of radiation and concurrent chemotherapy in advanced head and neck cancer.

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PURPOSE: Pretreatment anemia is an adverse prognostic variable in squamous cell head-and-neck cancer (HNC) patients treated with radiotherapy (RT) alone. Tumor hypoxia is an adverse parameter for treatment with RT alone or with RT and concurrent chemotherapy (CCT). Tumor hypoxia is more prevalent in patients who present with pretreatment hemoglobin (Hgb) concentrations less than 13 g/dL. RT/CCT improves survival over RT alone in advanced HNC, and its use is becoming more widespread. This study was performed to evaluate whether pretreatment Hgb less than 13 g/dL was correlated with treatment outcome in patients with advanced HNC treated with a uniform regimen of RT/CCT.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: The study population consisted of patients with AJCC Stage III or IV, M0 HNC who were treated with 70 to 72.5 Gy accelerated hyperfractionated RT (1.25 Gy b.i.d.) and CCT consisting of 2 cycles of CDDP (12-20 mg/m(2)/d x 5 days) and continuous infusion 5-FU (600 mg/m(2)/d x 5 days) during Week 1 and Week 6. A planned break in RT occurred during Week 4. These patients were enrolled on the experimental arm of a prospective randomized trial that compared this regimen to hyperfractionated irradiation alone from 1990 to 1996. RT/CCT was delivered as standard therapy from 1996 to 2000. The primary endpoint was failure-free survival (FFS). Secondary endpoints included local-regional control and overall survival.

RESULTS: One hundred and fifty-nine patients were treated from 1990 to 2000. The median (25-75%) pretreatment Hgb was 13.6 (12.2-13.5) g/dL. Hgb was 13 g/dL or higher in 105 patients and less than 13 g/dL in 54 patients. Primary tumor sites included oropharynx (43%), hypopharynx/larynx (36%), oral cavity (9%), and nasopharynx (6%). Seventy-eight percent of the patients with Hgb 13 g/dL or higher and 92% of the patients with Hgb less than 13 g/dL had a primary tumor stage of T3 or T4 (p = 0.01). Node-positive disease was present in 74 of 105 (70%) of patients with Hgb 13 g/dL or higher patients and in 36/54 (67%) of patients with Hgb less than 13 g/dL patients. Median follow-up of surviving patients was 42 months (range, 4-128 months). Five-year FFS was 75% for patients with Hgb 13 g/dL or higher vs. 50% for patients with Hgb less than 13 g/dL had a (p < 0.01). A total of 49 failures occurred in both patient cohorts. The median (25-75%) decrease in Hgb during RT/CCT was 2.2 (1.3-3.1) g/dL, both in patients who failed and in those who remained disease-free.

CONCLUSION: Pretreatment Hgb less than 13 g/dL is correlated with adverse outcomes in advanced HNC patients treated with RT/CCT. Whether anemia actually causes poor outcomes remains unknown. The therapeutic effect of anemia correction is being evaluated in prospective trials.





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Medicine and Health Sciences | Oncology




Department of Radiation Oncology

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