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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 with concurrent chemotherapy for larynx preservation and total laryngectomy for bulky T4 disease or salvage.[1,2,3,4,5,6]

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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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.[7,8]

Direct comparison of the results of radiation therapy versus endolaryngeal surgery (with or without laser) has not been made for patients with early stage laryngeal cancer. The evidence is insufficient to show a clear difference in the results between treatment options in regard to local control or OS. Retrospective data suggests that in comparison with surgery, radiation therapy might cause less perturbation of voice quality without a significant difference in patient perception.[9]

A direct comparison of chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy versus upfront surgery was made by The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Laryngeal Cancer Study Group in a trial in which 332 patients were randomly assigned to three cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin and fluorouracil) and radiation therapy or surgery and radiation therapy.[10] After two cycles of chemotherapy, the clinical tumor response was complete in 31% of the patients, and there was a partial response in 54% of the patients. Survival was similar in both arms; however, larynx preservation was possible in 64% of the patients in the chemotherapy-followed-by-radiation therapy arm.

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