Technical advances and pitfalls in head and neck radiotherapy

J Oncol. 2012;2012:597467. doi: 10.1155/2012/597467. Epub 2012 May 30.


Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) is the standard of care in the treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) based on level 1 evidence. Technical advances in radiotherapy have revolutionized the treatment of HNSCC, with the most tangible gain being a reduction in long term morbidity. However, these benefits come with a serious and sobering price. Today, there is a greater chance of missing the target/tumor due to uncertainties in target volume definition by the clinician that is demanded by the highly conformal planning process involved with IMRT. Unless this is urgently addressed, our patients would be better served with the historically practiced non conformal radiotherapy, than IMRT which promises lesser morbidity. Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) ensures the level of set up accuracy warranted to deliver a highly conformal treatment plan and should be utilized with IMRT, where feasible. Proton therapy has a theoretical physical advantage over photon therapy due to a lack of "exit dose". However, clinical data supporting the routine use of this technology for HNSCC are currently sparse. The purpose of this article is to review the literature, discuss the salient issues and make recommendations that address the gaps in knowledge.