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Study Reports Some Throat Cancer Patients can Forego Neck Surgery

Update Date: Sep 17, 2014 12:23 PM EDT

Surgery is not always the best treatment answer for throat cancer patients, a new study is reporting. According to the researchers, patients with oropharyngeal cancer that have achieved complete response after undergoing radiation therapy do not need neck surgery for lumps.

The researchers with lead author, Dr. Thomas J. Galloway, an Attending Physician and Director of Clinical Research at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, set out to discover whether or not patients benefited from having the lumps in their neck removed after battling head and neck cancer. Oftentimes after radiation and chemotherapy, patients will still have small lumps left behind that could either be removed surgically in case they became cancerous or left alone to dissolve on their own.

They examined medical data on 396 patients diagnosed with oropharyngeal tumors. Their tumors had all spread to at least one lymph node. 99 of the patients had tumors that were linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which the virus that has been tied to cervical, and head and neck cancer. All of the patients underwent radiation therapy. Within the 180 days post treatment, 146 patients had neck surgery to remove their lumps.

The team discovered that patients who achieved complete response from the radiation therapy did not need neck surgery because the lumps were most likely benign. In the group of patients who had neck surgery, the patients with HPV-positive cancers were more likely to have nonmalignant lumps. The team surprisingly found that patients with HPV-related cancer responded better to the treatment than patients without HPV-related cancer. Patients with HPV-associated cancers had a lower risk of cancer recurrence as well.

Dr. Galloway concluded, according to the press release that the study's findings suggested that "there's good reason to avoid neck surgery if we can."

The researchers presented the findings at the American Society for Radiation Oncology's 56th Annual Meeting.

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