Indian Journal of Cancer
Home  ICS  Feedback Subscribe Top cited articles Login 
Users Online :2777
Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size
Navigate here
Resource links
 »  Similar in PUBMED
 »  Search Pubmed for
 »  Search in Google Scholar for
 »Related articles
 »  Article in PDF (265 KB)
 »  Citation Manager
 »  Access Statistics
 »  Reader Comments
 »  Email Alert *
 »  Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article
 »  Abstract
 » Introduction
 »  Materials and Me...
 » Results
 » Discussion
 » Conclusion
 »  References
 »  Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded411    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 12    

Recommend this journal


  Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 53  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 138-141

Twice-weekly palliative radiotherapy for locally very advanced head and neck cancers

Department of Radiation Oncology, ACTREC and Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication28-Apr-2016

Correspondence Address:
V Murthy
Department of Radiation Oncology, ACTREC and Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-509X.180847

Rights and Permissions

 » Abstract 

Purpose: The purpose of the following study is to evaluate the efficacy of a twice-weekly hypofractionated palliative radiotherapy schedule in locally very advanced head and neck cancers. Materials and Methods: Patients with locally very advanced, head and neck cancers were prospectively evaluated after twice-weekly palliative radiotherapy regimen of 32 Gy in 8 fractions. Median age was 55.5 years and the predominant primary site was oral cavity (46%). Majority (70.6%) had Stage IV B disease. Disease related distressing symptoms such as pain, bleeding, skin fungation, respiratory symptoms due to tumor burden, were prospectively assessed before the start of treatment, at conclusion and at 6-12 weeks of completion of treatment. Results: A total of 126 patients were enrolled in the study. Ninety three (73.8%) patients who completed the planned treatment of 32 Gy in 8 fractions were included in the symptom analysis. Overall response rates were 42% at primary disease and 55% at nodal disease. At conclusion of radiotherapy 76.3% of the patients reported improvement in pain scores (P = 0.001) and 42.8% patients reported improvement in anxiety and depression levels (P = 0.001). At first follow-up after 6-12 weeks significant improvement in pain scores (P = 0.001) and anxiety/depression levels (P = 0.001) persisted. The median survival of the patients was 5.5 months. Acute grade III mucositis was seen in one patient (1.2%) while none had grade III skin reactions. Conclusion: The proposed radiotherapy regimen is effective for sustained symptom palliation with low acute toxicity in locally very advanced head and neck cancers. It delivers a moderately high dose while being logistically simpler for the patient.

Keywords: Head and neck cancers, locally very advanced, palliative radiotherapy

How to cite this article:
Murthy V, Kumar D P, Budrukkar A, Gupta T, Ghosh-Laskar S, Agarwal J. Twice-weekly palliative radiotherapy for locally very advanced head and neck cancers. Indian J Cancer 2016;53:138-41

How to cite this URL:
Murthy V, Kumar D P, Budrukkar A, Gupta T, Ghosh-Laskar S, Agarwal J. Twice-weekly palliative radiotherapy for locally very advanced head and neck cancers. Indian J Cancer [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Aug 18];53:138-41. Available from:

 » Introduction Top

A vast majority of Head and Neck Squamous cell cancers (HNSCC) in India present in advance stages [1] and are not candidates for multimodality treatment due to loco-regionally very advanced disease, poor performance status or distant metastatic disease. Traditionally, hypofractionated regimens have been used for palliation of locally very advanced head and neck cancers due to radiobiological advantages (large dose per fraction), shorter overall treatment time and logistical convenience and limited life expectancy in this group of patients. The increased potential for late side effects with hypofractionated radiotherapy [2] is less relevant due to limited life expectancy in this group of patients. Due to lack of consensus guidelines unlike radical radiotherapy,[3] on the optimal fractionation schedule, a number of different hypofractionated regimens have been used across the globe for treatment of locally advanced head and neck cancers.[4],[5],[6] To palliate large disease volumes in locally very advanced HNSCC, there is need to balance a moderately high radiation doses while keeping the overall treatment time and number of hospital visits small. This work is an analysis of patients of locally very advanced head and neck cancer treated at our institute with short course hypofractionated radiotherapy regimen of 32 Gy in 8 twice weekly (Wednesday/Saturday), fractions. The regimen was designed to deliver a reasonable tumoricidal dose in short duration of time and with fewer hospital visits. All patients in this cohort had a poor prognosis at presentation owing to large disease burden, poor performance status, coexisting co-morbidities and/or advanced age. The purpose of the present work was to determine the feasibility and efficacy of the proposed radiotherapy protocol in this cohort of locally very advanced head and neck cancers.

 » Materials and Methods Top

Between 2008 and 2011, 126 patients of locally advanced HNSCC considered unsuitable for definitive treatment were selected for analysis. These included patients with histologically confirmed cancer with stage IVB disease (surgically unresectable), patients with poor performance status without history of previous radiotherapy or chemotherapy. All the patients after complete staging work-up were discussed in the multidisciplinary joint clinic and were found unsuitable for curative treatment due to extensive loco-regional disease, poor performance status and/or the presence of distant metastatic disease. Staging work up for each patient included a thorough physical examination with indirect/direct laryngoscopy, cross-sectional imaging of face and neck and a chest X-ray. All data was planned and collected prospectively.

The primary end point was subjective improvement in distressing symptoms such as pain, dysphagia, bleeding, skin fungation, pressure related respiratory symptoms, anxiety and associated depression. Secondary end point was to evaluate response rates, toxicity and survival. Patients were asked to report pain levels on a score of 1-10 depending upon the severity of pain. Other parameters were patient reported and recorded in a graded manner assisted by a trained health care professional before treatment, at conclusion of radiotherapy and at first follow-up after 6-12 weeks. Long-term assessment was not planned as most patients were not likely to follow-up at the hospital due to logistic, geographical and health related reasons.

Treatment was planned on a conventional simulator with immobilization in a thermoplastic mask. Wires were used to delineate any palpable nodal disease. The treatment volume included the symptomatic gross disease (primary tumor and/or nodal disease). The radiation field encompassed the gross disease with a 1.5-2.0 cm margin. Treatment techniques and portals varied depending upon the location and the extent of the disease. Elective nodal irradiation was not done in order to reduce the treatment volumes and related toxicities.

All patients were planned to be treated with palliative hypo-fractionated radiotherapy to dose of 32 Gy in 8 fractions, given twice weekly (Wednesday and Saturday). Patients with good objective regression and symptomatic relief as assessed by the treating physician were given an additional dose of 20 Gy in 5 fractions. In the second phase of treatment if required, patients were treated with “off cord” portals, with an electron field to the posterior neck if clinically indicated. All patients were reviewed at least once weekly during the treatment course for assessing toxicity. The radiation therapy oncology group (RTOG) grading was used to document toxicity.[7] Symptom relief for the purpose of analysis was assessed at the conclusion of radiotherapy and at first follow up after 6-12 weeks. The modified World Health Organization criteria were used to assess tumor response to radiotherapy, which was documented at conclusion of radiotherapy and 6-8 weeks after the completion of treatment as follows. Complete response was defined as complete regression of primary or nodal disease, good response as more than 75% reduction in the size of primary or nodal disease, moderate regression as 50-75% regression in size, poor response as <50% regression in size of primary, stable disease as <25% regression in size of primary. Progressive disease was defined as any increase in the size of disease or appearance of a new lesion in the field.

Statistical methods

Descriptive statistics were used to estimate the patient demographics, disease and treatment parameters and toxicity after therapy. Impact of radiotherapy on symptoms with paired ordinal data was analyzed using Wilcoxon Signed rank test while Mc Nemar test was used for binary variables. The Kaplan–Meier method was used to estimate median overall survival (OAS), progression free survival (PFS). OAS was measured from commencement of radiotherapy until the date of death from any cause. The PFS was measured from commencement of radiotherapy until the date of first progression or death. Multiple-covariate analysis of prognostic factors was done by Cox regression backward-conditioning method.

 » Results Top

A total of 126 patients were enrolled in the study. Their demographic profile is shown in [Table 1]. Majority of the patients were male (82.5%) and the median age was 55.5 (25-85) years. The predominant primary site was oral cavity (46%) and 70.6% had stage IVB disease. Of the 126 patients, 33 patients did not complete the planned course of radiotherapy. They defaulted at various stages of treatment and while their baseline data was available, but they were not available for assessment of subjective and objective response. The median dose for these patients was 24 Gy with a range of 12-28 Gy. Twenty four24 (25.8%) patients with good subjective regression or symptomatic relief received additional dose of 20 Gy in 4 fractions. Ninety three patients who completed the prescribed course of radiotherapy were analyzed for response and symptom assessment at radiotherapy conclusion. At first follow-up, 46 patients were available for assessment of response and symptoms.
Table 1: Demographic profile

Click here to view

Subjective response

Following treatment, the median pain score improved significantly from 7 to 4 at conclusion and 3 at first follow-up. Bleeding and fungation rates improved from 8.5% and 11.7% to 5.3% and 9.7% respectively after completion of treatment. There was a statistically significant improvement in anxiety and depression in patients from 95% pre-treatment levels to 53% at the conclusion of planned treatment [Table 2].
Table 2: Analysis of impact of radiotherapy on symptoms

Click here to view

Objective response

[Table 3] shows the response rates after radiotherapy. Overall response in the primary site was 42% and at the nodal site was 55%.
Table 3: Response rates at primary and nodal disease

Click here to view

At the time of analysis 69 patients (74%) have died. The median survival of the patients was 5.5 months. On univariate analysis patients with stage IVA, Karnofsky Performance Status >80 and good response to radiation therapy had statistically significant superior OAS. On multivariate analysis, stage of the disease was found to be the only significant predictor of OAS (P = 0.045).

Treatment related toxicity

After completion of planned treatment, 46% had RTOG grade I dysphagia, compared with 42% at baseline. Fifty percent patients developed grade II mucositis, and only one patient developed grade III mucositis. None of the patients developed grade III skin toxicity while 45% patients developed grade II skin toxicity. None of the patients required tracheostomy or assisted feeding during the course of radiotherapy although few patients had feeding tube prior to radiotherapy treatment.

 » Discussion Top

In the present study, patients with locally very advanced head and neck cancers were treated with twice weekly palliative radiotherapy 32 Gy in 8 fractions with 25% of the patients receiving an additional 20 Gy in 5 fractions. There was significant improvement in the pain and anxiety/depression levels after palliative radiotherapy.

Locally very advanced HNSCC differ from the well-defined group of locally advanced head and neck cancers, in the extent of the disease. These are cases with either, a very large volume, inoperable primary disease (T4b disease) or a large fixed or fungating nodal mass making them ineligible for curative treatment. In the absence of any treatment the median survival of patients with such loco-regionally very advanced HNSCC is 100 days.[8] However this group of patients still merit some treatment to alleviate disease related distressing symptoms and to control loco-regional disease.

A number of palliative radiotherapy regimens are in use worldwide, without robust data on the best approach.[4],[5],[6] Palliative benefits of hypofractionated and conventional fractionated radiotherapy were found to be comparable, with no difference in acute or late toxicity in a small randomized control trial comparing conventional radiotherapy (60-70 Gy/30-35 fractions) with short-course hypofractionated radiotherapy (40-48 Gy/10-12 fraction, 4 fractions per week).[9] The hypofractionated regimen of 32 Gy/8 fractions used in the current study was designed to deliver a reasonably high tumoricidal dose (Biological Equivalent Dose [BED] of 45 Gy for tumor control and 74 Gy for late effects) to achieve sustained local control and symptom relief. Patients with good response received a higher dose of 52 Gy/13 fractions which amounts to BED of 72.8 Gy. Fewer fractions allowed treatment completion before accelerated repopulation. Furthermore as a number of patients were coming from faraway places within the city, fewer hospital visits were often welcomed by the patient.

In spite of developing some amount of radiotherapy induced mucosal reactions, after completion of palliative radiotherapy 83% of patients reported improvement in pain scores. The median pain score improved from 7 at presentation to 4 at conclusion of radiotherapy (P = 0.0001). At first follow-up after 3 months median pain scores reduced further to 3 (P = 0.007). The “Hypo trial” which included patients with incurable HNSCC treated with hypofractionated radiotherapy of 30 Gy in 5 fractions at 2 fractions/week, reported 67% improvement in pain and the QUAD SHOT study reported 56% (15/27) improvement in pain scores in.[4],[6] In a trial reported from North India, Mohanti et al. reported symptom relief for pain, dysphagia, hoarseness, cough and otalgia in 47-59% of the patients following palliative radiotherapy using 20 Gy/5 fractions, with 30% of the patients receiving additional dose of 42 Gy in 21 fractions.[10] Das et al. have reported significant pain relief (more than 50%) in about 88% of patients and worsening in 9% patients at the end of radiotherapy.[11]

Palliative radiotherapy also helped in relieving the anxiety and depression from 95% at presentation to 55% (P = 0.0001) at completion of radiotherapy. This trend was maintained at follow-up. This could also be direct effect of the patient receiving treatment and hoping that they will get better, in spite of being counseled otherwise. This aspect of patient care has not been studied in any of the previous studies of palliative radiotherapy in head and neck cancers. Improvement in ulceration, skin fungation, bleeding and respiratory distress levels after palliative radiotherapy were not statistically significant due to small number of patients having these symptoms at presentation.

Response rates after palliative radiotherapy have not been uniform. Minatel et al. in their study have reported local tumor response rates of 69% with a split course radiotherapy, 50 Gy in 20 fractions, and bleomycin in a group of patients with inoperable head and neck cancer.[12] The overall objective (CR + PR) response rates were 80% and 53% in the QUAD SHOT and Hypo trial respectively.[4],[6] Agrawal et al. have reported CR in 10% and PR in 63% of the patients using hypofractionated regimen of 40 Gy in 16 fractions.[5] In the present study, the overall response rates were 42% at primary disease and 55% at nodal disease. The lower response rates can be partly explained by larger disease burden, with 70% of the patients having stage IVB disease, whereas in the Hypo trial only 73% patients had stage III/IV disease and in the QUAD SHOT trial all patients had either stage III/IV disease.[4],[6]

An important aim of any palliative regimen is to offer symptom relief with a minimal treatment related toxicity. The treatment in this study was tolerated well and the treatment related acute toxicities were lower than most of the studies of palliative radiotherapy in head and neck cancers. In the present study, 50% patients developed grade II mucositis and only 1 (1.2%) patient developed grade III mucositis. None of the patients developed grade III skin toxicity while 45% patients developed grade II skin toxicity. The rate of grade III mucositis was 26% in the Hypo trial and 47% in the Italian study.[4],[12] Mohanti et al. reported 62% grade III mucositis and 56% grade III dermatitis in their study.[10] Agarwal et al. reported 63% grade III mucositis and 14% grade III dermatitis in their study using a BED of 50 Gy for acute effects.[5] Incidence of grade III mucositis and dermatitis and pain was 18%, 3%, in a study by Das et al.[11] The possible explanation for lower acute toxicity lies in the lower weekly accumulated dose of 8 Gy and time gap between two fractions resulting in a reduction in acute normal tissue reactions.[13]

Due to short median follow-up it is not possible to draw any conclusion related to late toxicities in the current study. Furthermore due to short expected median survival in this group of patients, the late toxicities are not a major concern in this patient subgroup.

In this study, only 74% of the patients could complete the planned treatment. Of the 27 patients who could not complete the planned treatment 16 patients (59%) died during the course of treatment while remaining 11 (41%) defaulted due to various reasons. The higher death (13%) and drop out (9%) rate before the completion of treatment rate calls for a very careful selection of patients for palliative radiotherapy in this group of locally very advanced head and neck cancers.

The limitations of the present study are that, it is not randomized, although the data was prospectively collected and analyzed. There was a significant attrition of patients post radiotherapy conclusion despite active and continuous attempts to contact patients for follow up. This was due to the fact that many patients were from outstation. There is lack of documentation of analgesic usage both during and after radiotherapy.

 » Conclusion Top

The studied palliative radiotherapy regimen has promise to deliver reasonably high dose to achieve significant pain relief with minimal acute toxicity in patients with locally very advanced head and neck cancers. Comparison with other dose fractionation regimen and palliative chemotherapy is warranted.

 » References Top

Kumar S. National palliative care policy for India. Indian J Palliat Care 2000;6:62.  Back to cited text no. 1
Steel GG. Basic clinical radiobiology. 3rd ed. New York: Hodder Arnold; 2002.  Back to cited text no. 2
Radiotherapy Dose Fractionation. London: Royal College of Radiologists; Board of Faculty of Clinical Oncology, Royal College of Radiology; 2006;pp. 40-3.  Back to cited text no. 3
Porceddu SV, Rosser B, Burmeister BH, Jones M, Hickey B, Baumann K, et al. Hypofractionated radiotherapy for the palliation of advanced head and neck cancer in patients unsuitable for curative treatment – ”Hypo Trial”. Radiother Oncol 2007;85:456-62.  Back to cited text no. 4
Agarwal JP, Nemade B, Murthy V, Ghosh-Laskar S, Budrukkar A, Gupta T, et al. Hypofractionated, palliative radiotherapy for advanced head and neck cancer. Radiother Oncol 2008;89:51-6.  Back to cited text no. 5
Corry J, Peters LJ, Costa ID, Milner AD, Fawns H, Rischin D, et al. The 'QUAD SHOT' – A phase II study of palliative radiotherapy for incurable head and neck cancer. Radiother Oncol 2005;77:137-42.  Back to cited text no. 6
Cox JD, Stetz J, Pajak TF. Toxicity criteria of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 1995;31:1341-6.  Back to cited text no. 7
Kowalski LP, Carvalho AL. Natural history of untreated head and neck cancer. Eur J Cancer 2000;36:1032-7.  Back to cited text no. 8
Weissberg JB, Pillsbury H, Sasaki CT, Son YH, Fischer JJ. High fractional dose irradiation of advanced head and neck cancer. Implications for combined radiotherapy and surgery. Arch Otolaryngol 1983;109:98-102.  Back to cited text no. 9
Mohanti BK, Umapathy H, Bahadur S, Thakar A, Pathy S. Short course palliative radiotherapy of 20 Gy in 5 fractions for advanced and incurable head and neck cancer: AIIMS study. Radiother Oncol 2004;71:275-80.  Back to cited text no. 10
Das S, Thomas S, Pal SK, Isiah R, John S. Hypofractionated palliative radiotherapy in locally advanced inoperable head and neck cancer: CMC Vellore experience. Indian J Palliat Care 2013;19:93-8.  Back to cited text no. 11
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Minatel E, Gigante M, Franchin G, Gobitti C, Mascarin M, Bujor L, et al. Combined radiotherapy and bleomycin in patients with inoperable head and neck cancer with unfavourable prognostic factors and severe symptoms. Oral Oncol 1998;34:119-22.  Back to cited text no. 12
Hopewell JW, Nyman J, Turesson I. Time factor for acute tissue reactions following fractionated irradiation: A balance between repopulation and enhanced radiosensitivity. Int J Radiat Biol 2003;79:513-24.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]

This article has been cited by
1 Palliative radiotherapy: a one-week course in advanced head and neck cancer – quality of life outcomes
Sadanand Prakash, Deep Chakrabarti, Rajendra Kumar, Manas Mani Agrawal, Mrinalini Verma, Sudhir Singh, Seema Gupta, Kirti Srivastava, Rajeev Gupta, Madan Lal Brahma Bhatt
BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care. 2022; : bmjspcare-
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Comparison of two schedules of hypo-fractionated radiotherapy in locally advanced head-and-neck cancers
Pramila Adlakha, Guncha Maheshwari, Aditya Dhanawat, Rajesh Sinwer, Mukesh Singhal, ShankarLal Jakhar, Neeti Sharma, HarvindraSingh Kumar
Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics. 2022; 0(0): 0
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Patient-Reported Outcomes Assessing the Impact of Palliative Radiotherapy on Quality of Life and Symptom Burden in Head and Neck Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review
Alexander Fabian, Justus Domschikowski, Markus Hoffmann, Oliver Weiner, Claudia Schmalz, Jürgen Dunst, David Krug
Frontiers in Oncology. 2021; 11
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Making the Best of Limited Resources: Improving Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer
Johannes J. Fagan, Vanita Noronha, Evan Michael Graboyes
American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book. 2021; (41): 279
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 Palliative radiotherapy in older adults with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma: A systematic review
I. Desideri, C. Becherini, L. Belgioia, A. Merlotti, L.P. Ciccone, C. Franzese, M. Loi, F. De Felice, R. Mazzola, S. Caini, L. Livi, P. Bonomo
Oral Oncology. 2021; 119: 105355
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 An Observational Study Depicting Role of p16 in Detecting Human Papilloma Virus in Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer and Associated Factors
Suresh Yadav, Ritu Sehra, Shashank Nath Singh, Sunita Agarwal, Pawan Singhal, Ramkalyan Meena
Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery. 2020;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
7 Comparative Evaluation of Quad Shot versus Twice Weekly Palliative Radiotherapy for Locally Advanced Head and Neck Cancer
Neeraj Kumar, Rajeev Atri, Vivek Kaushal, Rakesh Dhankhar, Anil Kumar Dhull, Parul Gupta, Sheeba Bhardwaj, Peoli Mukutawat
Journal of Evidence Based Medicine and Healthcare. 2020; 7(12): 605
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
8 Palliative Radiation Therapy for Head and Neck Cancers
Amardeep S. Grewal,Joshua Jones,Alexander Lin
International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics. 2019;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
9 Conventional fractionation versus quad shot in advanced head-and-neck cancers: A randomized controlled trial
Akansha Choudhary,Ajay Gupta
Indian Journal of Palliative Care. 2019; 25(4): 527
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
10 Palliative radiotherapy for locally advanced non-metastatic head and neck cancer: A systematic review
Muhammad Shahid Iqbal,Charles Kelly,Josef Kovarik,Bojidar Goranov,Ghazia Shaikh,David Morgan,Werner Dobrowsky,Vinidh Paleri
Radiotherapy and Oncology. 2018; 126(3): 558
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
11 An Extended Hypofractionated Palliative Radiotherapy Regimen for Head and Neck Carcinomas
Michael Laursen,Lena Specht,Claus Andrup Kristensen,Anita Gothelf,Mogens Bernsdorf,Ivan Vogelius,Jeppe Friborg
Frontiers in Oncology. 2018; 8
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
12 Collagen Type III Metabolism Evaluation in Patients with Malignant Head and Neck Cancer Treated with Radiotherapy
Klaudia Mazurek,Krzysztof Siemianowicz,Wirginia Likus,Ewa Pierzchala,Robert Kwiatkowski,Jaroslaw Markowski
BioMed Research International. 2018; 2018: 1
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


Print this article  Email this article


  Site Map | What's new | Copyright and Disclaimer | Privacy Notice
  Online since 1st April '07
  © 2007 - Indian Journal of Cancer | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow