The role of palliative radiotherapy in advanced head and neck cancer.
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The role of radiotherapy in the palliation of patients with advanced cancer of the head and neck is not clear. Several distinctive characteristics of advanced head and neck cancer contribute to the complexities in the choice of appropriate palliative management strategies. Palliative treatment may be the appropriate management for a proportion of patients with advanced disease, but the current stage groupings of head and neck cancer are not sufficient for use in the reliable identification of such a patient group. Controversy arises because of the difficulties in distinguishing patients who should be offered conventional treatment with curative intent from those appropriate for treatment with palliative intent. A structured review of the cancer and quality of life literature identified 298 references pertaining to palliative radiotherapy in head and neck cancer, 26 of which met the criteria for inclusion in this review. An expert panel discussed the literature, and concluded that insufficient information precluded estimations of the frequency, degree of, or duration of symptomatic relief that radiation offered to those patients not cured of their disease. Moreover, the currently available literature does not address the toxicity or appropriate dose and fractionation of palliative radiotherapy in this setting. Further studies are necessary to evaluate clinical endpoints appropriate to the use of radiotherapy in the palliative management of patients with advanced head and neck cancer. Studies are also needed to refine the current clinical classification of patients, allowing the identification of patients suitable for palliative management.
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