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Current role of primary surgical treatment in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Bozec, Alexandre; Culié, Dorian; Poissonnet, Gilles; Dassonville, Olivier

doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000531
HEAD AND NECK: Edited by Joël Guigay

Purpose of review The objective of this review article is to discuss the current role of surgery as the primary treatment modality in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

Recent findings HNSCC represents one of the cancer locations where the primary treatment modality is the most under discussion. Indeed, the respective roles of primary surgical resection followed, as necessary, by adjuvant radiotherapy or definitive chemoradiotherapy remain controversial. The results of organ preservation trials and the drastic rise in the incidence of human papillomavirus-induced oropharyngeal tumors, which are known to be highly radiosensitive, have led to an increasing use of chemoradiation-based therapies in HNSCC patients. However, no chemoradiation-based protocol has shown better oncologic outcomes than radical primary surgery. Moreover, development of minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as transoral robotic surgery, and advances in head and neck microvascular reconstruction have considerably improved the clinical outcomes of the patients and have led to a reconsideration of the role of primary surgery in HNSCC patients.

Summary Surgery should be the primary treatment modality for most resectable oral cavity cancers and for T4a laryngeal/hypopharyngeal cancers. Primary surgery could also be the preferred modality of treatment for most early (T1–T2, N0) laryngeal and hypo/oropharyngeal carcinomas when this strategy offers an opportunity to reserve radiotherapy for a potential recurrence or second primary tumor. Primary surgery should also be considered in patients with locally advanced human papillomavirus-negative oropharyngeal carcinoma.

Institut Universitaire de la Face et du Cou, Centre Antoine Lacassagne, Université Côte d’Azur, Nice, France

Correspondence to Alexandre Bozec, PhD, MD, Institut Universitaire de la Face et du Cou, 31, av de Valombrose, 06103, Nice, France. Tel: +33 4 92 03 17 66; fax: +33 4 92 03 17 64; e-mail:

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