Open Access Research article

Effectiveness of prophylactic retropharyngeal lymph node irradiation in patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer

Nam P Nguyen18*, Jacqueline Vock2, Vincent Vinh-Hung3, Fabio Almeida9, Lars Ewell1, Michael Betz3, Siyoung Jang1, Richard A Vo4, Suresh Dutta5, Juan Godinez6, Ulf Karlsson7 and Alexander Chi1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

2 Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, NC, USA

3 Department of Radiation Oncology, University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, Geneva, USA

4 University of Galveston Medical School, Galveston, TX, USA

5 San Antonio Cancer Center, San Antonio, TX, USA

6 Florida Radiation Oncology Group, Palatka, FL, USA

7 Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield, WI, USA

8 Radiation Oncology, University of Arizona, 1501 N. Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ 85724-5081, USA

9 Department of Radiation Oncology, Southwest PET/CT Institute, Tucson, AZ, USA

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:253  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-253

Published: 18 June 2012



The aim of the study is to assess the effectiveness of intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) or image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT) for the prevention of retropharyngeal nodal recurrences in locally advanced head and neck cancer.


A retrospective review of 76 patients with head and neck cancer undergoing concurrent chemoradiation or postoperative radiotherapy with IMRT or IGRT who were at risk for retropharyngeal nodal recurrences because of anatomic site (hypopharynx, nasopharynx, oropharynx) and/or the presence of nodal metastases was undertaken.

The prevalence of retropharyngeal nodal recurrences was assessed on follow-up positron emission tomography (PET)-CT scans.


At a median follow-up of 22 months (4–53 months), no patient developed retropharyngeal nodal recurrences.


Prophylactic irradiation of retropharyngeal lymph nodes with IMRT or IGRT provides effective regional control for individuals at risk for recurrence in these nodes.

Head and neck cancer; IMRT; IGRT; Retropharyngeal lymph nodes