Systemic therapy in the curative treatment of head-and-neck squamous cell cancer: Cancer Care Ontario clinical practice Guideline

E. Winquist, C. Agbassi, B.M. Meyers, J. Yoo, K.K.W. Chan, and the Head and Neck Disease Site Group



The aim of the present work was to make recommendations about the use of systemically administered drugs in combination or in sequence with radiation (rt) or surgery, or both, for cure or organ preservation, or both, in patients with locally advanced nonmetastatic (stages iii–ivb) squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (lascchn).


The Meta-analysis of Chemotherapy in Head and Neck Cancer (mach-nc) reports have, de facto, guided practice since 2000, and so we searched the literature for systematic reviews published from January 2000 to February 2015 in reference to five research questions. A search was also conducted up to February 2015 for randomized trials (rcts) not included in the meta-analyses. Recommendations were constructed using the Cancer Care Ontario Program in Evidence-Based Care practice guidelines development cycle.


In addition to updated mach-nc reports, five additional meta-analyses and thirty rcts were identified. Five recommendations for lascchn treatment were generated based on those data. Concurrent chemoradiation (ccrt) is recommended to maximize the chance of cure in patients less than 71 years of age when rt is used as definitive treatment. The same recommendation also applies to patients with resected lascchn considered to be at high risk for locoregional recurrence. For lascchn patients who are candidates for organ preservation strategies and would otherwise require total laryngectomy, either ccrt or induction chemotherapy, followed by rt or surgery based on tumour response is recommended. The addition of cetuximab to intensified rt (concomitant boost or hyperfractionated schedule) is an alternative to ccrt. Routine use of induction chemotherapy to improve overall survival is not recommended.


We were able to use high-level evidence from patients receiving rt as definitive or postoperative treatment to generate recommendations for the use of systemic therapy in the treatment of lascchn. A limitation is a lack of stratification for human papillomavirus–related cancers of the oropharynx. One rct provided evidence for the use of cetuximab as an alternative to chemotherapy in the definitive rt setting. Concurrent chemoradiation provides one strategy for larynx preservation, but the best strategy is unclear. Use of induction chemotherapy does not improve overall survival, and its use should be limited to patients requiring immediate tumour downsizing before local therapy.


Squamous cell carcinoma; head-and-neck cancer; human papillomavirus; locally advanced disease; systemic chemotherapy; induction chemotherapy; concurrent chemotherapy; systematic reviews; clinical practice guidelines; guideline recommendations

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)