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Head, Neck Cancer Treatment Often Not Completed

Surgical patients more likely to finish radiation course, study finds

MONDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Incomplete and interrupted radiation treatment is a common problem among Medicare patients with head and neck cancer, a new study has found.

Researchers analyzed data from 5,086 Medicare patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer between 1997 and 2003 and found that nearly 40 percent of them experienced interruptions in radiation therapy or failed to complete the course of therapy.

People who had surgery before radiation treatment were more likely to complete the treatment without interruption than were those who did not have surgery (70 percent versus 52 percent). People with co-existing illnesses, those who had undergone chemotherapy and those whose disease had spread to surrounding lymph nodes were less likely to do so, the study found.

The findings are in the September issue of Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

"Surgical patients may be more likely to complete radiotherapy for several reasons," wrote Megan Dann Fesinmeyer, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and her research colleagues. "First, characteristics that make patients good candidates for surgery may also make them more likely to complete radiotherapy. Because comorbidities are known to decrease survival in patients with head and neck cancer, healthier patients may be chosen by surgeons to complete more rigorous treatments (e.g., surgery in addition to radiotherapy)."

The study authors added that people "willing to undergo major surgery to treat their disease may also be more motivated to complete a full course of uninterrupted radiation therapy, despite any toxic effects of treatment that may occur."

More research is needed to determine the factors associated with incomplete or interrupted radiation therapy among those who don't have surgery, the researchers noted.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about head and neck cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Sept. 21, 2009

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