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Laryngeal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview

Small superficial cancers without laryngeal fixation or lymph node involvement are successfully treated by radiation therapy or surgery alone, including laser excision surgery. Radiation therapy may be selected to preserve the voice and to reserve surgery for salvaging failures. The radiation field and dose are determined by the location and size of the primary tumor. A variety of curative surgical procedures are also recommended for laryngeal cancers, some of which preserve vocal function. An appropriate surgical procedure must be considered for each patient, given the anatomic problem, performance status, and clinical expertise of the treatment team. Advanced laryngeal cancers are often treated by combining radiation and surgery.[1,2,3,4,5]

Evaluation of treatment outcome can be reported in various ways: locoregional control, disease-free survival, determinate survival, and overall survival (OS) at 2 to 5 years. Preservation of voice is an important parameter to evaluate. Outcome should be reported after initial surgery, initial radiation, planned combined treatment, or surgical salvage of radiation failures. Primary source material should be consulted to review these differences.

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Direct comparison of results of radiation versus surgery is complicated. Surgical studies can report outcome based on pathologic staging, whereas radiation studies must report on clinical staging, with the obvious problem of understaging in patients treated with radiation, particularly in the neck. In addition, radiation alone is often recommended for patients with poor performance status, which leads to less favorable results.

A review of published clinical results of radical radiation therapy for head and neck cancer suggests a significant loss of local control when the administration of radiation therapy was prolonged; therefore, lengthening of standard treatment schedules should be avoided whenever possible.[6,7] Because the cure rate for advanced lesions is low, clinical trials exploring chemotherapy, hyperfractionated radiation therapy,[8] radiation sensitizers, or particle-beam radiation therapy should be considered.[9,10] Although cure rates are not changed with chemoradiation administered in a neoadjuvant setting, organ preservation is increased.[11]

A multi-institutional trial randomly assigned patients to induction cisplatin plus fluorouracil (5-FU) followed by radiation therapy, radiation therapy administered concurrently with cisplatin, or radiation therapy alone.[11] Concurrent radiation therapy plus cisplatin resulted in a statistically significantly higher percentage of patients with an intact larynx at 2 years (i.e., 88% vs. 75% and 70% for concurrent chemotherapy, induction chemotherapy, and radiation alone, respectively) and higher locoregional control (i.e., 78% vs. 61% and 56%, respectively) than the other two regimens. Both chemotherapy regimens had a lower incidence of distant metastases and better relapse-free survivals than radiation therapy alone, but they also had a higher rate of high-grade toxic effects. OS rates were not significantly different between the different groups.[11][Level of evidence: 1iiC]

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