Comparison of Surgical Complications After Organ-Preservation Therapy in Patients With Stage III or IV Squamous Cell Head and Neck Cancer

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To determine the incidence of minor and major complications in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the upper aerodigestive tract who require surgical salvage or planned neck dissection after an initial treatment regimen with radiotherapy or concurrent chemoradiotherapy for organ preservation.


The medical records of 100 patients treated in a phase 3 trial comparing radiotherapy alone with concurrent chemoradiotherapy for stage III and IV head and neck squamous cell carcinoma were reviewed. Fifty-four patients underwent 59 surgical procedures. Twenty-nine planned neck dissections were performed for persistent neck disease or initial stage N2 or greater. For persistent or recurrent disease at the primary site, 30 salvage operations were performed.


Academic tertiary care referral center.


Complications occurred in 15 (46%) of the 33 procedures in the radiation-only group and 12 (46%) of the 26 procedures in the chemoradiotherapy group. Major complications occurred in 4 (12%) of the procedures in the radiation-only group and 3 (12%) of the procedures in the chemoradiotherapy group. The incidence of minor complications was 33% and 35% in the radiation-only and chemoradiotherapy groups, respectively. The major complication rate for salvage operations did not differ between the radiation-only and chemoradiotherapy groups (16% and 27%, respectively; P=.79 by chi squaredtest). The incidence of major complications in planned neck dissections was 7% of the radiation-only group and 0% of the chemoradiotherapy group.


After radiation or concurrent chemoradiotherapy, surgery can be performed with an acceptable rate of major complications. Adding chemotherapy did not increase the incidence of surgical complications. These results differ from other reports in the literature.

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