Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)
Deciding on further treatment depends on many factors, including the specific cancer, previous treatment, site of recurrence, and individual patient considerations. Salvage regimens consisting of ifosfamide, cisplatin, and either etoposide or vinblastine can induce long-term complete responses in about 25% of patients with disease that has persisted or recurred following other cisplatin-based regimens. Patients who have had an initial complete response to first-line chemotherapy and those without extensive disease have the most favorable outcomes.[1,2] This regimen is now the standard initial salvage regimen.[2,3] Few, if any, patients with recurrent nonseminomatous germ cell tumors of extragonadal origin, however, achieve long-term disease-free survival (DFS) using vinblastine, ifosfamide, and cisplatin if their disease recurred after they received an initial regimen containing etoposide and cisplatin.[Level of evidence: 3iiDii]
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High-dose chemotherapy with autologous marrow transplantation has also been used in uncontrolled case series in the setting of recurrent disease.[4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11] However, a randomized controlled trial comparing conventional doses of salvage chemotherapy with high-dose chemotherapy with autologous marrow rescue showed more toxic effects and treatment-related deaths in the high-dose arm without any improvement in response rate or overall survival.[Level of evidence: 1iiA] In some highly selected patients with chemorefractory disease confined to a single site, surgical resection may yield long-term DFS.[13,14] One case series suggests that a maintenance regimen of daily oral etoposide (taken 21 days out of 28 days) may benefit patients who achieve a complete remission after salvage therapy.
A special case of late relapse may include patients who relapse more than 2 years after achieving complete remission; this population represents less than 5% of patients who are in complete remission after 2 years. Results with chemotherapy are poor in this patient subset, and surgical treatment appears to be superior, if technically feasible. Teratoma may be amenable to surgery at relapse, and teratoma also has a better prognosis than carcinoma after late relapse. Teratoma is a relatively resistant histologic subtype, so chemotherapy may not be appropriate.
Clinical trials are appropriate and should be considered whenever possible, including phase I and phase II studies for those patients who do not achieve a complete remission with induction therapy, or for those who do not achieve a complete remission following etoposide and cisplatin for their initial relapse, or for patients who have a second relapse.