Intensity-modulated radiation therapy may benefit head and neck cancer patients

A new study has shown that an advanced form of radiation therapy called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is of benefit to patients with head and neck cancer as they suffer fewer side effects and the disease is less likely to recur.

The standard radiation treatment given to head and neck patients often causes significant side effects including difficulty in swallowing and bone destruction. Previous studies have shown that IMRT, which treats the tumour but spares unaffected tissue, causes less dry mouth and dental problems but they have not looked at how it impacts on patient survival. The new study was carried out by the University of Texas and it analysed a large database of 3172 patients treated for head and neck cancer at various clinics across the United States between 1999 and 2007. At the 40 month follow-up point 84.1 per cent of patients treated with IMRT were still surviving compared with 66.0 percent of patients treated with traditional radiation.

Dr Beth Beadle of the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston who led the study said, "This analysis revealed that patients treated with IMRT have less cancer-related deaths than those treated with traditional techniques. So, not only do they have fewer side effects, but they also have fewer life-threatening recurrences."

Although IMRT is more expensive than traditional radiation treatment it may still be cost effective if it reduces recurrence of cancer. Nevertheless, more research will be needed to verify the findings of this retrospective study.

The finding of the analysis were published online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society

Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
Energy in the form of waves or particles, including radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays. Full medical glossary
A group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. Full medical glossary
An abnormal swelling. Full medical glossary