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Systemic treatment in elderly head and neck cancer patients

recommendations for clinical practice

Szturz, Petra; Bossi, Paolob; Vermorken, Jan B.c,d

Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery: April 2019 - Volume 27 - Issue 2 - p 142–150
doi: 10.1097/MOO.0000000000000526
HEAD AND NECK ONCOLOGY: Edited by Cesare Piazza

Purpose of review Despite the constantly growing number of elderly patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN), the majority of clinical trials have been focusing on their younger counterparts. However, because of age-related changes and the resulting higher prevalence of frailty, senior people need an adapted evidence-based approach.

Recent findings Recommendations presented in this article proceed from those relevant for the general patient population taking into consideration the individual process of aging. In this respect, categorization into fit, vulnerable and frail elderly patients was used to guide systemic treatment.

Summary The fit and vulnerable subgroups with locoregionally advanced SCCHN may still benefit from curative treatment, whereas for the remaining cases only palliative measures are usually appropriate. Advanced calendar age is not a contraindication for cisplatin making part of the standard regimens in locally advanced (high-dose 3-weekly schedule concurrent with radiotherapy) and recurrent/metastatic disease (in combination with 5-fluorouracil and cetuximab). In the latter setting, modern immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors, particularly the antiprogrammed cell death protein-1 (anti-PD-1) agents nivolumab and pembrolizumab, changed clinical practice. These drugs have a favourable toxicity profile making them good candidates even for management of vulnerable patients. Regardless of the chosen strategy, attentive supportive care is of paramount importance.

aMedical Oncology, Department of Oncology, Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland

bMedical Oncology, Department of Medical and Surgical Specialties, Radiological Sciences and Public Health, University of Brescia, ASST-Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy

cFaculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Antwerp, Antwerp

dDepartment of Medical Oncology, Antwerp University Hospital, Edegem, Belgium

Correspondence to Petr Szturz, MD, PhD, Medical Oncology, Department of Oncology, University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV), Rue du Bugnon 46, 1011 Lausanne, Switzerland. Tel: +41 079 556 76 67; e-mail:

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