Medline: 7960998

International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 30(4): 953-957, 1994.

Performance status after treatment for squamous cell cancer of the base of tongue - a comparison of primary radiation therapy versus primary surgery.

Harrison LB, Zelefsky MJ, Armstrong JG, et al.


To compare the quality of life and functional outcome in patients with squamous cell cancer of the base of tongue treated with primary radiation vs. primary surgery.

AND MATERIALS: At our institution, patients with base of tongue cancer are primarily treated either by radiation or surgery depending upon the philosophy of their primary physician. Primary radiation consists of 45-54 Gy external beam radiation followed by an 192Ir implant delivering an additional 20-30 Gy over 2-3 days. A neck dissection is done at the same time as the implant for those with involved nodes. Primary surgery consists of resection of the base of tongue lesion, neck dissection and postoperative radiation therapy. Because both groups have similar local control in our experience (80-90%), we used a subjective performance status scale for head and neck cancer patients to assess the quality of life in these patients (0-100, 0 = worst function, 100 = normal function). This scale measures ability to eat in public, understandability of speech, and normalcy of diet. There were 30 radiation patients (21: T1-T2; nine: T3-T4) and ten surgery patients (five: T1-T2; five: T3-T4) available for long-term quality of life assessment.

Patients treated with radiation had consistently better performance status scores and quality of life according to our study. This was true for those with early (T1-2) as well as more advanced (T3-4) disease. For eating in public, T1-2 patients had scores of 85 vs. 75 (p = .31) and T3-4 patients had scores of 82 vs. 35 (p < .0001) for radiation vs. surgery, respectively. For understandability of speech, T1-2 patients had scores of 92 vs. 65 (p = .0021), and T3-4 patients had scores of 95 vs. 35 (p < .0001) for radiation vs. surgery, respectively. For normalcy of diet, T1-2 patients had scores of 74 vs. 50 (p = .047), and T3-4 patients had scores of 78 vs. 32 (p = .0012) for radiation vs. surgery, respectively. In addition, we compared scores for early vs. advanced disease treated by the same modality. For radiation, there was no difference in all three functional categories for T1-2 vs. T3-4 (p = .84), showing that quality of life scores remain high for all stages. For surgery, functional status deteriorated significantly when comparing T1-2 vs. T3-4 (p = .0014), consistent with the fact that larger tumors require more extensive operations.

Radiation therapy provides a better performance status than surgery for base of tongue cancer. This is true for both early and advanced disease. Because radiation also provides similar local control and survival, our data suggests that radiation may be the preferred strategy. Functional scores remain high for all T stages treated with radiation, but deteriorate with more advanced T stages for patients treated with surgery. Similar studies using objective criteria are needed to further compare these treatments.

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