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Severe weight loss during, but not before, simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation therapy for stage III and IV squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) is associated with increased survival

Journal of Otolaryngology-ENT Research
Danielle Tamburrini, Casey Gene Sheck, Shawn Shaikh, Mckenzie Montana, Jessica Tyrrell, Michael A Davis DO, Jill Darminio, Gus J Slotman, and the Southern New Jersey Head and Neck Cancer Treatment Network


Background:  Severe weight loss commonly occurs before and during chemo-irradiation for Stage III and IV SCCHN. Nevertheless, the effects of severe weight loss on short and long term outcomes are unknown.

Objective: to evaluate effects of pre-treatment weight loss versus weight loss during chemotherapy/radiation for advanced operable SCCHN on toxicity, tumor response, recurrent tumor and survival.

Methods:  Records of 52 patients with Stage III and IV, clinically operable SCCHN who underwent primary high-dose radiotherapy and concomitant chemotherapy (cisplatin, 20mg/M2/four consecutive days during weeks1, 4, and 7 of radiotherapy) (CTRT) were examined retrospectively in two groups: <7.5% weight loss in three months during CTRT (NON-SEVERE; n=12) and >7.5% weight loss (SEVERE; n=41). Data included tumor site, grade, stage, pre-CTRT weight loss, CTRT toxicity, response (CCR = Clinical Complete; HCR = Histologic Complete without residual tumor), surgeries, recurrence, and overall and disease-free survival. Statistical analysis: Chi-square, ANOVA, and Kaplan-Meier.

Results:  Per study design, weight loss was greater in the SEVERE group versus NON-SEVERE (-17.3% +- 7.9% versus -2.9% +- 4.2%, p<0.0001).  Pre-CTRT weight loss, age, stage, grade, toxicity of CTRT and post-CTRT surgery did not vary significantly. SEVERE tongue/hypopharynx primary site was increased (66% versus 18%, p<0.05). CCR and HCR were achieved in 5/11 (45%) of NON-SEVERE and 29/41 (71%) SEVERE. SCCHN recurred in 1/11 (9%) NON-SEVERE and 12/41 (29%) SEVERE patients. Kaplan-Meier Overall 60 month survival was 56% SEVERE and 14% NON-SEVERE (p<0.001). Disease-Free survival was 65% SEVERE and 22% NON-SEVERE (p<0.001).

Conclusions: In spite of greater tongue/hypopharynx primaries and independent of pre-treatment weight loss, SEVERE Stage III/IV SCCHN CTRT toxicity, post-CTRT operations, and tumor recurrence did not increase.  SEVERE CCR/HCR was excellent and SEVERE overall and disease-free survivals exceeded NON-SEVERE significantly. The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying these new and clinically important findings are not clear from the data. 


head and neck cancer, cisplatin, radiation therapy, squamous cell carcinoma, malnutrition, weight loss