Treatment of inoperable elderly head and neck cancer patients

Curr Opin Oncol. 2019 May;31(3):152-159. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000526.


Purpose of review: Elderly head and neck cancer (HNC) patients are very rarely enrolled in clinical trials, and even more so in dedicated trials in curative or palliative setting. As a result, no standards of treatment exist for this population and thus, adaptation of standard treatments is commonly used.

Recent findings: The choice between a monotherapy and a platinum-cetuximab combination is based on the performance status, which is not suitable and/or sufficient to evaluate the patient ability to receive a systemic treatment combined or not with radiotherapy. The evaluation of functional age using geriatric assessment is recommended. However, access to comprehensive geriatric assessment is limited in many centers, and the choice of the type of treatment is often not based on objective and reproducible criteria. As a result, fragile elderly HNC patients may be overtreated with a risk of increased toxicity and fit patients proposed for suboptimal treatment with a risk of failure of tumor control.

Summary: It is therefore crucial to develop and evaluate customized treatments by enrolling elderly HNC patients in dedicated therapeutics trials, such as the ELAN (Elderly Head and Neck Cancer) studies or new approaches involving promising immunotherapies. To administer the most suitable therapy, a simple and reproducible geriatric assessment could efficiently guide practitioners.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Cetuximab / administration & dosage
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Organoplatinum Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / drug therapy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / radiotherapy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / surgery
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy*


  • Organoplatinum Compounds
  • Cetuximab