Surveillance of Patients with Head and Neck Cancer with an Intensive Clinical and Radiologic Follow-up

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Objective: There is no consensus on the follow-up modalities in patients with head and neck cancer. This study aims to describe the pattern and survival outcomes of recurrences/second primary cancers in patients undergoing an intensive radiologic and clinical follow-up. Study Design: Retrospective analysis. Setting: Single academic tertiary care center. Subjects and Methods: All patients with stage III-IV head and neck cancer treated with chemoradiotherapy at our institution between 1998 and 2010 were retrospectively reviewed. Persistent/recurrent disease within 6 months since the curative treatment and second primary cancers outside the upper aerodigestive tract were excluded. Data were analyzed by descriptive statistics. Surveillance was planned every 3 months in the first year, then with increasing intervals till the fifth year. Results: A total of 326 patients were included. Out of all detected cancer recurrences (n = 106, 32%), 38 (36%) were locoregional, 44 (41%) were distant, and 24 (23%) were second primary cancers. Approximately 70% of recurrences were clinically and/or radiologically discovered, while 30% were diagnosed due to the patients’ symptoms. Of all clinically and/or radiologically discovered recurrences/second primary cancers (n = 74), 26 (35%) were curatively treated, with respect to 9 of the 32 (28%) diagnosed by symptoms. Median overall survival of recurrent curable cases did not significantly differ according to the detection modality (89 months by clinical/radiologic examination vs 85 by symptoms). Conclusions: Clinical and radiologic follow-up identified more recurrences/second primary cancers than the symptom-driven monitoring, but the curability of cancer recurrence was similar regardless of detection modality. Prospective trials are needed to define the most effective follow-up strategy in head and neck cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-642
Number of pages8
JournalOtolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (United States)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2019


  • follow-up
  • head and neck cancer
  • recurrence
  • secondary primary cancer
  • surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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