Precis Future Med.  2022 Jun;6(2):146-153. 10.23838/pfm.2022.00037.

Palliative tumor surgery for incurable head and neck cancer: indications and outcomes: A retrospective case review

  • 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Samsung Medical Center, Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, Seoul, Korea
  • 2Department of Radiation Oncology, Samsung Medical Center, Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, Seoul, Korea


Despite the promising palliative effects of radiation treatment, few reports have studied the role of palliative tumor surgery (PTS) in patients with unresectable head and neck cancer (HNC). Thus, we aimed to present the outcomes of PTS in HNC, and suggest a possible surgical indication for PTS.
We retrospectively reviewed the medical records of 18 patients who underwent PTS for HNC between 2002 and 2017. PTS was defined as surgical debulking of tumor or surgery of loco-regionaltumors in patients with distant metastasis. As functional outcomes, we evaluated changes in pain, diet, respiration, and wound care before and after PTS.
Squamous cell carcinoma was the common cancer type (72.2%), followed by salivary gland cancers and others. The median overall survival time was 17 months (95% confidence interval, 7.3 to 26.7). PTS significantly reduced the pain score (P= 0.013), and improved cancer-related wounds (P=0.003 in wound infection). Oral swallowing and respiration status did not change after PTS. The recurrent tumor at the operation bed was clinically detected at post-operative 1 to 2 months with intact skin (without wound problems). Of note, further chemotherapy or other additional cancer treatments was possible in 66.7% of patients with PTS (P=0.002).
PTS could provide a meaningful benefit to selected patients with incurable HNC, in terms of pain control and cancer wound management. Thus, PTS is a considerable option for selected HNC patients, based on the accurate evaluation of tumor extent along with multi-disciplinary consultation as well as patient counseling.


Head and neck neoplasms; Outcomes; Palliative care; Quality of life; Surgical indications
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