Defining risk levels in locally advanced head and neck cancers: a comparative analysis of concurrent postoperative radiation plus chemotherapy trials of the EORTC (#22931) and RTOG (# 9501)

Head Neck. 2005 Oct;27(10):843-50. doi: 10.1002/hed.20279.


Background: In 2004, level I evidence was established for the postoperative adjuvant treatment of patients with selected high-risk locally advanced head and neck cancers, with the publication of the results of two trials conducted in Europe (European Organization Research and Treatment of Cancer; EORTC) and the United States (Radiation Therapy Oncology Group; RTOG). Adjuvant chemotherapy-enhanced radiation therapy (CERT) was shown to be more efficacious than postoperative radiotherapy for these tumors in terms of locoregional control and disease-free survival. However, additional studies were needed to identify precisely which patients were most suitable for such intense treatment.

Methods: Both studies compared the addition of concomitant relatively high doses of cisplatin (on days 1, 22, and 43) to radiotherapy vs radiotherapy alone given after surgery in patients with high-risk cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, larynx, or hypopharynx. A comparative analysis of the selection criteria, clinical and pathologic risk factors, and treatment outcomes was carried out using data pooled from these two trials.

Results: Extracapsular extension (ECE) and/or microscopically involved surgical margins were the only risk factors for which the impact of CERT was significant in both trials. There was also a trend in favor of CERT in the group of patients who had stage III-IV disease, perineural infiltration, vascular embolisms, and/or clinically enlarged level IV-V lymph nodes secondary to tumors arising in the oral cavity or oropharynx. Patients who had two or more histopathologically involved lymph nodes without ECE as their only risk factor did not seem to benefit from the addition of chemotherapy in this analysis.

Conclusions: Subject to the usual caveats of retrospective subgroup analysis, our data suggest that in locally advanced head and neck cancer, microscopically involved resection margins and extracapsular spread of tumor from neck nodes are the most significant prognostic factors for poor outcome. The addition of concomitant cisplatin to postoperative radiotherapy improves outcome in patients with one or both of these risk factors who are medically fit to receive chemotherapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cisplatin / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Risk
  • Survival Analysis


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cisplatin