Immunotherapy and Modern Radiotherapy Technique for Older Patients with Locally Advanced Head and Neck Cancer: A Proposed Paradigm by the International Geriatric Radiotherapy Group

Nam P. Nguyen, Lyndon Kim, Juliette Thariat, Brigitta G. Baumert, Thandeka Mazibuko, Olena Gorobets, Vincent Vinh-Hung, Huan Giap, Tahir Mehmood, Felix Vincent, Alexander Chi, Trinanjan Basu, Gokoulakrichenane Loganadane, Mohammad Mohammadianpanah, Ulf Karlsson, Eromosele Oboite, Joan Oboite, Ahmed Ali, Brandi R. Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The standard of care for locally advanced head and neck cancer is concurrent chemoradiation or postoperative irradiation with or without chemotherapy. Surgery may not be an option for older patients (70 years old or above) due to multiple co-morbidities and frailty. Additionally, the standard chemotherapy of cisplatin may not be ideal for those patients due to oto- and nephrotoxicity. Though carboplatin is a reasonable alternative for cisplatin in patients with a pre-existing hearing deficit or renal dysfunction, its efficacy may be inferior to cisplatin for head and neck cancer. In addition, concurrent chemoradiation is frequently associated with grade 3–4 mucositis and hematologic toxicity leading to poor tolerance among older cancer patients. Thus, a new algorithm needs to be developed to provide optimal local control while minimizing toxicity for this vulnerable group of patients. Recently, immunotherapy with check point inhibitors (CPI) has attracted much attention due to the high prevalence of program death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) in head and neck cancer. In patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer refractory to cisplatin-based chemotherapy, CPI has proven to be superior to conventional chemotherapy for salvage. Those with a high PD-L1 expression defined as 50% or above or a high tumor proportion score (TPS) may have an excellent response to CPI. This selected group of patients may be candidates for CPI combined with modern radiotherapy techniques, such as intensity-modulated image-guided radiotherapy (IM-IGRT), volumetric arc therapy (VMAT) or proton therapy if available, which allow for the sparing of critical structures, such as the salivary glands, oral cavity, cochlea, larynx and pharyngeal muscles, to improve the patients’ quality of life. In addition, normal organs that are frequently sensitive to immunotherapy, such as the thyroid and lungs, are spared with modern radiotherapy techniques. In fit or carefully selected frail patients, a hypofractionated schedule may be considered to reduce the need for daily transportation. We propose a protocol combining CPI and modern radiotherapy techniques for older patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer who are not eligible for cisplatin-based chemotherapy and have a high TPS. Prospective studies should be performed to verify this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5285
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • CPI
  • IGRT
  • TPS
  • cancer patients
  • locally advanced
  • older


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