Successful therapy for head and neck cancer may lead to long-term circulatory problems

Washington, DC Despite a steady stream of health advisories, younger Americans continue to light up in bars and restaurants. What many do not realize is that tobacco and alcohol combined contributes to head and neck cancer. While this is not one of the more common cancers, it is among the deadliest. Malignancies in this region of the body are among the most difficult to treat, resulting in a high mortality rate for these patients.

Specialists have found that a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy extends survival in patients with head and neck tumors. However, there is a downside to the treatment, especially radiotherapy. Cellular absorption of ionizing radiation generates toxic free radicals and leads to faulty repair of DNA breaks and cell death. Responses to radiotherapy occur in time frames of hours (nausea, vomiting), days (erythema), weeks (bone marrow supression), months (fibrosis), and years (carcinogenesis). Among survivors of the cancer itself, late effects on "bystander" organs -- such as the thyroid and salivary glands -- have become increasingly prevalent, with secondary malignancies and infections boosting the levels of sickness and death.

Physicians have noted that after neck irradiation, long-term injury commonly occurs in the carotid arteries. Atherosclerotic and thrombotic complications have drawn the most attention. For example, in a study of 910 patients who survived at least five years after irradiation of head and neck tumors, stroke occurred in about six percent and clinically significant carotid stenosis was observed in 17 percent.

A New Study

A new study examines three cases where symptomatic baroreflex failure occurred apparently as a late consequence of neck irradiation. The baroflex is originating from the stimulation of the carotid sinus baroreceptors and plays an important role in maintaining proper blood pressure.

Results Being Presented At Upcoming Conference


Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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