Advances in Radiotherapy for Head and Neck Cancer

J Clin Oncol. 2015 Oct 10;33(29):3277-84. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2015.61.2994. Epub 2015 Sep 8.


Over the last few decades, significant improvements have been made in the radiotherapy (RT) treatment of head and neck malignancies. The progressive introduction of intensity-modulated RT and the use of multimodality imaging for target volume and organs at risk delineation, together with the use of altered fractionation regimens and concomitant administration of chemotherapy or targeted agents, have accompanied efficacy improvements in RT. Altogether, such improvements have translated into improvement in locoregional control and overall survival probability, with a decrease in the long-term adverse effects of RT and an improvement in quality of life. Further progress in the treatment of head and neck malignancies may come from a better integration of molecular imaging to identify tumor subvolumes that may require additional radiation doses (ie, dose painting) and from treatment adaptation tracing changes in patient anatomy during treatment. Proton therapy generates even more exquisite dose distribution in some patients, thus potentially further improving patient outcomes. However, the clinical benefit of these approaches, although promising, for patients with head and neck cancer need to be demonstrated in prospective randomized studies. In this context, our article will review some of these advances, with special emphasis on target volume and organ-at-risk delineation, use of molecular imaging for tumor delineation, dose painting for dose escalation, dose adaptation throughout treatment, and potential benefit of proton therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Cranial Irradiation / methods*
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated