Clinical Significance of Vulnerability Assessment in Patients with Primary Head and Neck Cancer Undergoing Definitive Concurrent Chemoradiation Therapy

Published:January 24, 2020DOI:


      This study aimed to identify vulnerable patients with head and neck cancer undergoing concurrent chemoradiation therapy (CCRT) who are susceptible to higher treatment-related adverse effects and have poorer treatment tolerance. This study also aimed to determine whether comprehensive geriatric assessment, developed in the geriatric population, can predict vulnerability to treatment-related adverse events and survival even in nongeriatric patients with head and neck cancer, as well as the prevalence of vulnerability and its effect on toxicities and survival among these patients.

      Methods and Materials

      This prospective cohort study examined 461 patients with primary head and neck cancer who underwent definitive CCRT during 2016 to 2017 at 3 medical centers across Taiwan. Vulnerability is defined as susceptibility to cancer- and treatment-related adverse events that result in poor treatment tolerance and unexpected emergent medical needs, such as hospitalization and emergency room visits. Vulnerability was assessed as impairment with ≥2 dimensions on comprehensive geriatric assessment, 7 days before CCRT. The association of vulnerability with treatment-related adverse events and survival was analyzed.


      The prevalence of vulnerability was 22.2%, 27.3%, 30.2%, and 27.9% among patients aged 20 to 34, 35 to 49, 50 to 64, and >65 years, respectively. Survival was poorer in vulnerable patients than in nonvulnerable patients (hazard ratio, 1.97; 95% confidence interval, 1.26-3.07; P = .003). Vulnerable patients showed a higher tendency toward CCRT incompletion (19.5% vs 6.1%, P < .001), hospitalization (34.6% vs 23.5%, P = .020), need for tubal feeding (29.3% vs 11.8%, P < .001), and longer length of hospital stay (8.1 days vs 4.0 days, P = .004) than nonvulnerable patients. Hematologic and nonhematologic toxicities were more severe in vulnerable patients than in nonvulnerable patients.


      Vulnerability, which is an urgent concern when it presents among patients with head and neck cancer, was independently associated with poorer survival and severe treatment-related complications. Vulnerability assessment should be routinely evaluated in all patients with primary head and neck cancer who are undergoing definitive CCRT, not only in such patients who are geriatric.
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      Linked Article

      • In Regard to Chou et al
        International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, PhysicsVol. 108Issue 3
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          We commend Chou et al for conducting this multicentered prospective study on vulnerability assessment before definitive chemoradiation for head and neck cancers. This study concluded that vulnerability, as measured by comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA), was independently associated with poorer survival and higher treatment-related toxicities.1
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