Intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, is a highly specialized form of external beam radiation therapy that allows the radiation beam to better target and conform to a tumor. It is a newer treatment that has become widely adopted for treating head and neck cancer. Prior studies have shown that IMRT decreases the probability of radiation therapy related side effects, including dry mouth and chewing and swallowing problems, but no study has been conducted to measure long-term quality of life in head and neck cancer patients treated with various forms of radiation therapy.
Investigators from the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, prospectively administered the University of Washington Quality of Life instrument, a standardized, previously validated questionnaire that patients complete after radiation therapy, to 155 patients undergoing treatment for cancers of the head and neck and analyzed the scores over time. Fifty-four percent of patients were initially treated with IMRT and 46 percent were treated with non-IMRT techniques.
The researchers showed that the early quality of life gains associated with IMRT not only are maintained but become more magnified over time. At one-year post-treatment, 51 percent of IMRT patients rated their quality of life as very good or outstanding compared to 41 percent of non-IMRT patients. However, at two-years after treatment, the percentages changed to 73 percent and 49 percent, respectively. Also, 80 percent of patients treated with IMRT reported that their health-related quality of life was much better or somewhat better compared to the month before developing cancer. In contrast, only 61 percent of patients treated by non-IMRT techniques felt similarly.
Although the researchers acknowledged that quality of life is somewhat of a subjective concept, they nonetheless believe their findings support the widespread use of IMRT for head and neck cancer.
“Hopefully, these results provide some reassurance to patients that radiation therapy using contemporary techniques in the hands of expert specialists can maintain their function and long-term quality of life, while still curing them of cancer,” Allen Chen, MD, lead author of the study and director of the radiation oncology residency training program at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento, Calif., said.
“Radiation therapy for head and neck cancer is without a doubt an intensive process and very intimidating to most patients. Folks think about the prospects of six to seven weeks of radiation and naturally expect the worst. It is nice to know that technological advances have made the treatment much more tolerable than in the past.”
The abstract, “Intensity-modulated radiotherapy is associated with improved global quality of life among long-term survivors of head and neck cancer,” will be presented as a poster viewing. To speak with one of the study authors, contact Beth Bukata or Nicole Napoli on January 26-27, 2012, in the press room at the Arizona Biltmore at 602-912-7854 or 703-839-7336.
About the American Head and Neck Society
The American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) is the single largest organization in North America for the advancement of research and education in head and neck oncology. The purpose of the AHNS is to promote and advance the knowledge of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of neoplasms and other diseases of the head and neck; to promote and advance research in diseases of the head and neck; and to promote and advance the highest professional and ethical standards.
About the American Society of Clinical Oncology
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is the world’s leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. With more than 30,000 members, ASCO is committed to improving cancer care through scientific meetings, educational programs and peer-reviewed journals. ASCO is supported by its affiliate organization, the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which funds ground-breaking research and programs that make a tangible difference in the lives of people with cancer. For ASCO information and resources, visit www.asco.org. Patient-oriented cancer information is available at www.cancer.net.
About the American Society for Radiation Oncology
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy. For more information on radiation therapy, visit www.rtanswers.org. To learn more about ASTRO, visit www.astro.org.
About SNM—Advancing Molecular Imaging and Therapy
SNM is an international scientific and medical organization dedicated to raising public awareness about what molecular imaging is and how it can help provide patients with the best health care possible. SNM members specialize in molecular imaging, a vital element of today’s medical practice that adds an additional dimension to diagnosis, changing the way common and devastating diseases are understood and treated.