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Base of Tongue Cancer

In cancer of the oral tongue surgery is generally preferred, but for the base of tongue cancer, radiation is often favored (from NCI, and comparisons here, here and here) even for the early cancers because of the side effects related to surgery (see NCCN Guidelines: here and recommended radiation dose and technique has evolved from 3D to IMRT.

The literature review by Parsons also showed radiation had identical cure rates with surgery but much lower rates of complications (see Parsons.) Read review here and here.

See picture of older techniques (called 3 D conformal therapy): typical radiation port for base of tongue cancer , lateral port , lateral port, another lateral port, and AP neck port, and areas of local spread., another port, neck nodes, neck nodes at risk


Most of these patients are now treated with IMRT techniques (go here and here). Most of the survival data is based on old studies of radiation alone or surgery and postOp radiation. Whereas most patients are now treated with combination of chemotherapy and high dose radiation (which has resulted in much better survival statistics, go here and here and here).   Most patients get 70Gy of radiation combined with cisplatin or Erbitux. The RTOG trial compared XRT + Cisplatin to XRT + Cisplatin + Erbitux and found using all three was not better than XRT + Cisplatin (see RTOG 0522).

For the results of therapy (local control rates and 5 year survival statistics) go here

Note that most patients with base of tongue cancer are now treated with combined radiation plus chemotherapy (called chemoradiation...see here and here). Some representative studies are also noted below.)

Is radiation therapy a preferred alternative to surgery for squamous cell carcinoma of the base of tongue?

Mendenhall WM, Stringer SP, Amdur RJ, Hinerman RW, Moore-Higgs GJ, Cassisi NJ J Clin Oncol 2000 Jan;18(1):35-42

Department of Radiation, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL, USA. mendewil@shands.ufl.edu

Two hundred seventeen patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the base of tongue were treated with radiation alone and had follow-up for >/= 2 years. RESULTS: Local control rates at 5 years were as follows: T1, 96%; T2, 91%; T3, 81%; and T4, 38%. Multivariate analysis revealed that T stage (P =.0001) and overall treatment time (P =.0006) significantly influenced local control. The 5-year rates of local-regional control were as follows: I, 100%; II, 100%; III, 83%; IVA, 64%; and IVB, 65%. Multivariate analysis revealed that the following parameters significantly affect the probability of this end point: T stage (P =.0001), overall treatment time (P =.0001), overall stage (P =.0131), and addition of a neck dissection (P =.0021). The rates of absolute and cause-specific survival at 5 years were as follows: I, 50% and 100%; II, 81% and 100%; III, 65% and 76%; IVA, 42% and 56%; and IVB, 44% and 52%. Severe radiation complications developed in eight patients (4%). CONCLUSION: The likelihood of cure after external-beam irradiation was related to stage, overall treatment time, and addition of a planned neck dissection. The local-regional control rates and survival rates after radiation therapy were comparable to those after surgery, and the morbidity associated with irradiation was less.

Head Neck 1999 Dec;21(8):751-9

Cancer of the base of the tongue: past and future.

Brunin F, Mosseri V, Jaulerry C, Point D, Cosset JM, Rodriguez J

Departement de Radiotherapie Oncologique, Institut Curie, 26, rue d'Ulm, 75531 Paris Cedex 05, France.

BACKGROUND: Squamous cell carcinomas of the base of the tongue often are diagnosed at advanced stages, in a context of undernutrition with a history of smoking and alcoholism. The local treatment of these tumours is based on external irradiation, either alone or combined with brachytherapy, followed by salvage surgery in the case of failure. Surgery was rarely performed as first-line treatment in our institution until 1992. METHODS: From 1960 to 1992, 216 patients were treated, without prior selection, according to the same protocol comprising external irradiation and salvage surgery in the case of failure. The tumour classification (UICC 88) was as follows: 14% of T1, 26% of T2, 44% of T3; 16% of T4; the median age was 58 years; tumour regression was evaluated during and at the end of irradiation. RESULTS: The locoregional control rates were 45% at 5 years, 37% at 10 years: 82% at 5 and 10 years for stage I, 65% and 54% for stage II, 51% and 45% for stage III, 35% and 32% for stage IV. Overall survival rates were 27% at 5 years and 14% at 10 years; 53% and 27% for stage I, 34% and 17% for stages II and III, 18% and 12% for stage IV. Causes of death were primarily local failures (58%), intercurrent disease (15%), metastases (10%), and second cancers (8%). The results of this retrospective series confirm the poor prognosis of tumours of the base of the tongue. Irradiation and surgery remain the standard treatments; possibilities of improvement are currently under evaluation, such as acceleration of irradiation, and concomitant radiochemotherapy combinations, which currently appear to be the most promising approaches.

Head Neck 1998 Dec;20(8):668-73

Long term results of primary radiotherapy with/without neck dissection for squamous cell cancer of the base of tongue.

Harrison LB, Lee HJ, Pfister DG, Kraus DH, White C, Raben A, Zelefsky MJ, Strong EW, Shah JP

Department of Radiation Oncology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, USA.

From 1981 to 1995, 68 patients with primary squamous cell cancer of the base of tongue were managed with primary radiotherapy, with neck dissection added for those who were initially seen with palpable lymph node metastases. Ages ranged from 35 to 77 years (median age, 55 years). There were 59 men and 9 women. T Stage distribution was: T1, 17; T2, 32; T3, 17; T4, 2. Fifty-eight patients (85%) were initially seen with nodal metastases. Initial treatment generally involved external-beam radiotherapy (EBRT) to the primary site and upper neck (54 Gy) and to the low neck (50 Gy). A 192-Ir brachytherapy boost (20-30 Gy) to the base of tongue was done about 3 weeks later, at the same anesthesia used for the neck dissection. All patients had temporary tracheostomy. Follow-up ranged from 1 month to 151 months (median, 36 months). Nine patients received neoadjuvant chemotherapy as part of a larynx-preservation protocol. RESULTS: Actuarial 5- and 10-year local control is 89% and 89%, distant metastasis free survival is 91% and 76%, disease-free survival is 80% and 67%, and overall survival is 86% and 52%, respectively. Complications occurred in 16%. CONCLUSIONS: Our long term data clearly demonstrate that primary radiotherapy produces excellent oncologic outcomes.

Cancer 1991 Mar 15;67(6):1532-8

Results of radiation therapy in carcinoma of the base of the tongue. The Curie Institute experience with about 166 cases.

Jaulerry C, Rodriguez J, Brunin F, Mosseri V, Pontvert D, Brugere J, Bataini JP

Department of Radiation Oncology, Institut Curie, Paris, France.

Between 1960 and 1980, 166 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue were treated with primary irradiation at the Curie Institute (Paris, France). Distribution according to the TNM system 1978 International Union Against Cancer (UICC) was the following: 22 T1 lesions, 47 T2 lesions, 64 T3 lesions, and 33 T4 lesions. Regional nodes were not palpable in 50 cases, 35 had N1 nodes, 12 had N2 nodes, and 69 had N3 nodes. All patients received external beam radiation. The 2-year, 3-year, and 5-year overall survival rates for all patients were, respectively, 45%, 37%, and 27%. Local control was significantly related to the initial status of the primary, to the tumor regression at the end of the radiation therapy, and to the histologic differentiation. The 2-year local control was 96% for T1 lesions, 57% for T2 lesions, 45% for T3 lesions, and 23% for T4 lesions. Local control was 70% if the tumor regression was complete at the end of the treatment and 27% if the tumor regression was partial. No significant differences were found in primary local control with respect to degree of infiltration, age, and dose of radiation therapy over a dose of 60 Gy in 6 weeks. The 3-year regional control was 86% for N0, 78% for N1, and 60% for N2 and N3. Among the tumor characteristics analyzed, the most useful ones for predicting local control and survival were clinical tumor staging parameters and tumor radiation-induced regression. A new therapeutic approach based on the evaluation of the tumor regression at 50/55 Gy is under discussion.

Head Neck 1997 Sep;19(6):494-9

Combined surgery and postoperative radiotherapy for carcinoma of the base of radiotherapy for carcinoma of the base of tongue: analysis of treatment outcome and prognostic value of margin status.

Machtay M, Perch S, Markiewicz D, Thaler E, Chalian A, Goldberg A, Kligerman M, Weinstein G

Department of Radiation Oncology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA.

BACKGROUND: Choice of treatment for base of tongue carcinoma is controversial, with options including surgery alone, radiotherapy alone, or multimodality treatment. Given the highly aggressive nature of these tumors, it has been our institutional policy to manage this disease with combined partial glossectomy (with attempt to avoid laryngectomy if possible) with planned postoperative radiotherapy (RT). We reported on our institutional experience with this approach. METHODS: A retrospective review of the charts of 17 patients with primary base of tongue squamous cell carcinoma treated with surgery and postoperative RT was performed. Patients treated with chemotherapy as part of their management were excluded. All patients underwent partial, hemi-, or subtotal glossectomy; 15/17 patients underwent ipsilateral radical or modified radical neck dissection. All patients received comprehensive postoperative RT (median dose 6000 cGy; range 5040-6920 cGy). Stage distribution was as follows: stage I, 2; stage II, 3; stage III, 2; stage IV, 10. Positive margins for invasive carcinoma were found in 9/17 patients. Median follow-up of surviving patients is 46 months; median follow-up for all patients is 31 months. RESULTS: For the entire group of patients, the actuarial 3-year local-regional control rate was 68%. The actuarial 3-year overall survival rate was 46%. The local-regional control rate was 83% for patients with stage I-III disease versus 50% for stage IV disease. There were no local failures among eight patients with negative margins (local control 100%) compared with an actuarial local control rate of 36% among patients with positive margins (p = .03). Survival, disease-specific survival, and locoregional control were also highly correlated with margin status (p = .003). Late major complications included 5/17 patients requiring permanent G-tubes and/or tracheostomy to prevent aspiration. CONCLUSIONS: Surgery plus postoperative RT is an intensive treatment for carcinoma of the base of tongue which offers high locoregional control in patients in whom negative margins are achieved. Positive margins indicate a high risk of locoregional and systemic failure, and these patients should be considered for innovative clinical trials after surgery.

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 1998 May 1;41(2):371-7

Adjuvant radiotherapy for squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue base: improved local-regional disease control compared with surgery alone.

Nisi KW, Foote RL, Bonner JA, McCaffrey TV

Division of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this retrospective study is to present the results of postoperative adjuvant radiotherapy after primary surgery for squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue base and to compare these results to those obtained with surgery alone. METHODS: Between 1974 and 1993, continuous-course postoperative radiotherapy was delivered to 24 patients (Adjuvant Radiotherapy Group). Results were compared to those from a group of 55 patients treated with surgery alone (Surgery Group). RESULTS: Characteristics of the two groups were similar, except that a larger proportion of patients in the Adjuvant Radiotherapy Group had higher pathologic TNM stages. Ipsilateral neck control (87% vs. 68%, p = 0.04), contralateral neck control (100% vs. 76%,p = 0.002), relapse-free survival (64% vs. 46%,p = 0.04), and control above the clavicles (80% vs. 48%, p = 0.007) were significantly higher in the Adjuvant Radiotherapy Group compared to those in the Surgery Group . CONCLUSION: The use of adjuvant radiotherapy after surgical resection of tongue base squamous cell carcinoma significantly decreased the rate of local-regional recurrence and improved relapse-free survival compared with surgery alone but did not alter cause-specific or overall survival.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue: results of treatment in 115 cases.

Br J Radiol 1989 Sep;62(741):849-53

Calais G, Reynaud-Bougnoux A, Bougnoux P, Le Floch O

Department of Oncology and Radiotherapy, Hopital Bretonneau, Tours, France.

Between 1976 and 1986, we treated 115 patients (mean age 53.8 years) with base of tongue carcinomas. The staging system used was the UICC TNM classification of 1979. Seventy per cent of the tumours were T3 or T4 and 42% had N2 or N3 lymph node. Locoregional treatment was irradiation alone (98/115) or surgery and post-operative radiotherapy (17/115). Sixty-seven patients received induction chemotherapy. Actuarial survival of the entire group at 3 and 5 years was 25 and 23%, respectively, and 3-year actuarial survival rates for T1, T2, T3 and T4 lesions were 42, 48, 20 and 17%, respectively. The local control rate at the primary site was 55% and 78% in the neck. Distant metastases occurred in 10% of patients and 8% had a second primary. Nodal status was the only other prognostic factor. The local control rate obtained with irradiation alone was not good. For limited T1 and T2 tumours, interstitial therapy or surgery should improve the local control rate.


Treatment selection for carcinoma of the base of the tongue.

Am J Surg 1990 Oct;160(4):415-9

Weber RS, Gidley P, Morrison WH, Peters LJ, Hankins P, Wolf P, Guillamondegui O

Department of Head and Neck Surgery, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030.

Between 1974 and 1984, 173 patients were treated for squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue base. Fifty-four patients had T1 or T2 primaries, while 115 patients had T3 or T4 tumors (4 were not staged). Lymph node metastasis was present in 120 patients. Early primary tumors treated with surgery or radiotherapy had a control rate of 83% (5 of 6 tumors) and 89% (40 of 45 tumors), respectively. For advanced primary tumors, definitive radiotherapy produced a local control rate of 55% (42 of 76 tumors), compared with 79% (23 of 29 tumors) for surgery and postoperative radiotherapy. If primary control was obtained, the regional failure rate was less than 10%. Tumor growth patterns were predictive of the response to radiotherapy. The primary control rate at 2 years for 21 patients with exophytic tumors was 84% as opposed to 58% for 62 patients withulcerative-infiltrative tumors (p = 0.04). Radiotherapy is effective for early stage or exophytic tumors, whereas for advanced or
deeply invasive tumors combined therapy enhances local control.