Close or positive margins after surgical resection for the head and neck cancer patient: the addition of brachytherapy improves local control

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1998 Jan 15;40(2):313-7. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(97)00717-7.


Purpose: Microscopically positive or close margins after surgical resection results in an approximately 21-26% local failure rate despite excellent postoperative external radiation therapy. We sought to demonstrate improved local control in head and neck cancer patients who had a resection with curative intent, and had unexpected, microscopically positive or close surgical margins.

Methods and materials: Twenty-nine patients with microscopically close or positive margins after curative surgery were given definitive, adjuvant external radiation therapy and 125I brachytherapy. All 29 patients had squamous cell cancer and tonsil was the most common subsite within the head and neck region. After external radiation therapy and thorough discussions with the attending surgeon and pathologists, the slides, gross specimens, and appropriate radiographs were reviewed and a target volume was determined. The target volume was the region of the margin in question and varied in size based on the surgery and pathologic results. Once the target volume was identified the patient was taken back to the operating room for insertion of 125I seeds. Activity implanted (range 2.9-21.5 millicuries) was designed to administer a cumulative lifetime dose of 120-160 Gy.

Results: Twenty-nine patients were followed for a median of 26 months (range 5-86 months). Two-year actuarial local control was 92%.

Conclusion: 125I, after external radiation therapy, is an excellent method to improve local control in the subset of patients with unexpectedly unsatisfactory margins.

MeSH terms

  • Brachytherapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery*
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasm, Residual
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant


  • Iodine Radioisotopes