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Comment & Response
March 12, 2020

Radical Radiotherapy Should Remain the Standard of Care for Carcinoma Oropharynx

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences (Dr RMLIMS), Lucknow, India
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online March 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2020.0089

To the Editor We commend Hutcheson et al1 on their interesting study; however, a few points need to be addressed.

This study, being a retrospective toxic effects analysis, has various problems, chief among which is the lack of a priori decided end points. Although a 6-month period seems to be clinically meaningful, the lack of an a priori decided effect size remains an issue. Furthermore, the general dictum in oncologic care is to expose the patient to only 1 form of definitive treatment modality if it is deemed adequate.

In this study, nearly half of all patients in the surgery arm (49.3%) ended up receiving postoperative radiotherapy (PORT), about 20% receiving concurrent chemotherapy with PORT, and 26.7% receiving bilateral irradiation. All these factors are likely to contribute to increasing toxic effects in the transoral robotic surgery (TORS) group. On the other hand, the total dose received in the definitive radiotherapy (RT) group was higher, which is a significant contributory factor to RT-related dysphagia. The exact details of the dose-fractionation schedules used have not been mentioned, but would affect the highest dysphagia grade, especially if accelerated RT in any form had been used.2 Complicating this is the imbalance that 21.4% of patients receiving definitive RT did so via the more tissue-sparing proton therapy vs 13.5% in the PORT group.

Furthermore, the details of concurrent chemotherapy were not reported, and it is likely that it was not balanced between the 2 arms because the dose density and number of chemotherapy cycles would be higher for the definitive RT group vs the PORT group, which would also contribute to differences in dysphagia.3

Owing to all these unbalanced confounder variables between the groups, it is difficult to directly compare the 2 arms and draw firm conclusions regarding toxic effects patterns and rates. The data show that at 6 months posttreatment, as expected, the difference in dysphagia between the TORS vs TORS/PORT groups was significant; however, the difference between definitive RT vs TORS/PORT was not significant, despite the definitive RT group having larger tumors, with more patients being irradiated bilaterally and to higher doses. All this suggests that perhaps the true dysphagia benefits were seen in patients not receiving any PORT. Given the excellent locoregional control rates of definitive RT (with or without concurrent chemotherapy) in oropharyngeal carcinoma,4,5 this then fairly questions the rationale of not giving definitive RT (with or without concurrent chemotherapy) up front to these patients.

Prospective (preferably randomized) studies would be needed, with careful patient selection, to draw meaningful conclusions. In the meantime, we see a role for TORS mostly in T1-2 node-negative tumors, and it would be prudent to consider definitive RT (with or without concurrent chemotherapy) in all other cases, rather than subjecting patients to the nonoverlapping but additive toxic effects profiles of RT and surgery.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Shantanu Sapru, MD, Department of Radiation Oncology, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences, Vibhuti Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, UP 226010, India (shantanusapru@gmail.com).

Published Online: March 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2020.0089

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Hutcheson  KA, Warneke  CL, Yao  CMKL,  et al; MD Anderson Head and Neck Cancer Symptom Working Group.  Dysphagia after primary transoral robotic surgery with neck dissection vs nonsurgical therapy in patients with low- to intermediate-risk oropharyngeal cancer  [published online September 26, 2019].  JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2019.2725PubMedGoogle Scholar
Matuschek  C, Haussmann  J, Bölke  E,  et al.  Accelerated vs. conventionally fractionated adjuvant radiotherapy in high-risk head and neck cancer: a meta-analysis.  Radiat Oncol. 2018;13(1):195. doi:10.1186/s13014-018-1133-8PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Fallai  C, Bolner  A, Signor  M,  et al.  Long-term results of conventional radiotherapy versus accelerated hyperfractionated radiotherapy versus concomitant radiotherapy and chemotherapy in locoregionally advanced carcinoma of the oropharynx.  Tumori. 2006;92(1):41-54. doi:10.1177/030089160609200108PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Kelly  JR, Park  HS, An  Y,  et al.  Upfront surgery versus definitive chemoradiotherapy in patients with human Papillomavirus-associated oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer.  Oral Oncol. 2018;79:64-70. doi:10.1016/j.oraloncology.2018.02.017PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Pedro  C, Mira  B, Silva  P,  et al.  Surgery vs. primary radiotherapy in early-stage oropharyngeal cancer.  Clin Transl Radiat Oncol. 2017;9:18-22. doi:10.1016/j.ctro.2017.12.002PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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