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Harish N. Vasudevan and Sue S. Yom

The addition of chemotherapy to radiation therapy (RT) has been established for decades to improve outcomes in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC). Concurrent chemoradiation increases both local control and overall survival but at the cost of significant toxicity, motivating extensive investigations to optimize the balance of clinical efficacy and adverse effects. This review discusses the rationale and seminal studies underlying the concurrent chemoradiation treatment paradigm in HNC, and describes attempts to better tailor systemic therapy beyond standard-of-care cisplatin, such as the use of alternate cytotoxic agents and nonstandard dosing regimens. Modern efforts to incorporate targeted therapies and immunotherapy are then summarized, particularly for patients unable to receive standard cytotoxic chemotherapy. Finally, mechanisms through which RT and systemic therapy cooperate to improve the therapeutic ratio are discussed, with a focus on the interaction between immunotherapy and RT, a rapidly emerging treatment paradigm. With increasing application of novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, determining the optimal concurrent systemic program to maximize RT efficacy will continue to evolve. Identification of patient- and tumor-specific factors will offer a unique opportunity to implement personalized oncologic care.

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Nandita Khera, Jessica Sugalski, Diana Krause, Richard Butterfield III, Nan Zhang, F. Marc Stewart, Robert W. Carlson, Joan M. Griffin, S. Yousuf Zafar and Stephanie J. Lee

Background: Financial distress from medical treatment is an increasing concern. Healthcare organizations may have different levels of organizational commitment, existing programs, and expected outcomes of screening and management of patient financial distress. Patients and Methods: In November 2018, representatives from 17 (63%) of the 27 existing NCCN Member Institutions completed an online survey. The survey focused on screening and management practices for patient financial distress, perceived barriers in implementation, and leadership attitudes about such practices. Due to the lack of a validated questionnaire in this area, survey questions were generated after a comprehensive literature search and discussions among the study team, including NCCN Best Practices Committee representatives. Results: Responses showed that 76% of centers routinely screened for financial distress, mostly with social worker assessment (94%), and that 56% screened patients multiple times. All centers offered programs to help with drug costs, meal or gas vouchers, and payment plans. Charity care was provided by 100% of the large centers (≥10,000 unique annual patients) but none of the small centers that responded (<10,000 unique annual patients; P=.008). Metrics to evaluate the impact of financial advocacy services included number of patients assisted, bad debt/charity write-offs, or patient satisfaction surveys. The effectiveness of institutional practices for screening and management of financial distress was reported as poor/very poor by 6% of respondents. Inadequate staffing and resources, limited budget, and lack of reimbursement were potential barriers in the provision of these services. A total of 94% agreed with the need for better integration of financial advocacy into oncology practice. Conclusions: Three-fourths of NCCN Member Institutions reported screening and management programs for financial distress, although the actual practices and range of services vary. Information from this study can help centers benchmark their performance relative to similar programs and identify best practices in this area.

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Xiuning Le, Renata Ferrarotto, Trisha Wise-Draper and Maura Gillison

Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment in the past 2 decades, mostly with immune checkpoint blockade approaches. In squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN), the initial efficacy of immunotherapy was observed in patients with recurrent or metastatic (R/M) disease who received other prior systemic treatment. As monotherapy, anti–PD-1 therapies induce responses in 13% to 18% of patients. More recently, immunotherapy in combination with cytotoxic chemotherapy demonstrated greater safety and efficacy as first-line systemic treatment compared with chemotherapy alone. In R/M SCCHN, the most important benefit of immunotherapy is the significantly improved overall survival, especially in patients with PD-L1–positive tumors. As of 2019, immunotherapy can be used as first-line or subsequent treatment of R/M SCCHN. Many ongoing trials are evaluating immunotherapy combinations or novel immunotherapy strategies, aiming to improve response rate and overall survival. As new targets are identified and new approaches are leveraged, the role of immunotherapy in R/M SCCHN continues to evolve.

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David G. Pfister, Sharon Spencer, David Adelstein, Douglas Adkins, Yoshimi Anzai, David M. Brizel, Justine Y. Bruce, Paul M. Busse, Jimmy J. Caudell, Anthony J. Cmelak, A. Dimitrios Colevas, David W. Eisele, Moon Fenton, Robert L. Foote, Thomas Galloway, Maura L. Gillison, Robert I. Haddad, Wesley L. Hicks Jr., Ying J. Hitchcock, Antonio Jimeno, Debra Leizman, Ellie Maghami, Loren K. Mell, Bharat B. Mittal, Harlan A. Pinto, John A. Ridge, James W. Rocco, Cristina P. Rodriguez, Jatin P. Shah, Randal S. Weber, Gregory Weinstein, Matthew Witek, Frank Worden, Sue S. Yom, Weining Zhen, Jennifer L. Burns and Susan D. Darlow

Treatment is complex for patients with head and neck (H&N) cancers with specific site of disease, stage, and pathologic findings guiding treatment decision-making. Treatment planning for H&N cancers involves a multidisciplinary team of experts. This article describes supportive care recommendations in the NCCN Guidelines for Head and Neck Cancers, as well as the rationale supporting a new section on imaging recommendations for patients with H&N cancers. This article also describes updates to treatment recommendations for patients with very advanced H&N cancers and salivary gland tumors, specifically systemic therapy recommendations.

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Margaret Tempero

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Saber Amin, Michael Baine, Jane Meza and Chi Lin

Background: Immunotherapy has shown excellent efficacy in various cancers. However, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the significant role of immunotherapy in patients with brain metastases (BMs). The objective of this study was to investigate, using the National Cancer Database, the impact of immunotherapy on the overall survival (OS) of patients with BMs who did not receive definitive surgery of the primary tumor. Patients and Methods: Patients diagnosed with the primary cancer of non–small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, other types of lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, colorectal cancer, or renal cancer who had BMs at the time of diagnosis were identified from the National Cancer Database. We assessed OS using a Cox proportional hazards model adjusted for age at diagnosis, sex, race, education level, income level, residential area, treatment facility type, insurance status, Charlson-Deyo comorbidity status, year of diagnosis, primary tumor type, and receipt of chemotherapy, radiation therapy (RT), and/or immunotherapy, because these factors were significantly associated with OS in the univariable analysis. Results: Of 94,215 patients who were analyzed, 3,097 (3.29%) received immunotherapy. In the multivariable analysis, immunotherapy was associated with significantly improved OS (hazard ratio [HR], 0.694; 95% CI, 0.664–0.726; P<.0001) compared with no immunotherapy. Treatment using chemotherapy plus immunotherapy was significantly associated with improved OS (HR, 0.643; 95% CI, 0.560–0.738; P<.0001) compared with chemotherapy without immunotherapy. RT plus immunotherapy was also associated with significantly improved OS (HR, 0.389; 95% CI, 0.352–0.429; P<.0001) compared with RT alone. Furthermore, chemoradiation (CRT) plus immunotherapy was associated with significantly improved OS (HR, 0.793; 95% CI, 0.752–0.836; P<.0001) compared with CRT alone. Conclusions: In this comprehensive analysis, the addition of immunotherapy to chemotherapy, RT, and CRT was associated with significantly improved OS in patients with BMs. The study warrants future clinical trials of immunotherapy in patients with BMs, who have historically been excluded from these trials.

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NCCN Guidelines Insights: Rectal Cancer, Version 6.2020

Featured Updates to the NCCN Guidelines

Al B. Benson III, Alan P. Venook, Mahmoud M. Al-Hawary, Mustafa A. Arain, Yi-Jen Chen, Kristen K. Ciombor, Stacey Cohen, Harry S. Cooper, Dustin Deming, Ignacio Garrido-Laguna, Jean L. Grem, Andrew Gunn, Sarah Hoffe, Joleen Hubbard, Steven Hunt, Natalie Kirilcuk, Smitha Krishnamurthi, Wells A. Messersmith, Jeffrey Meyerhardt, Eric D. Miller, Mary F. Mulcahy, Steven Nurkin, Michael J. Overman, Aparna Parikh, Hitendra Patel, Katrina Pedersen, Leonard Saltz, Charles Schneider, David Shibata, John M. Skibber, Constantinos T. Sofocleous, Elena M. Stoffel, Eden Stotsky-Himelfarb, Christopher G. Willett, Alyse Johnson-Chilla and Lisa A. Gurski

The NCCN Guidelines for Rectal Cancer provide recommendations for the diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, and follow-up of patients with rectal cancer. These NCCN Guidelines Insights summarize the panel discussion behind recent important updates to the guidelines. These updates include clarifying the definition of rectum and differentiating the rectum from the sigmoid colon; the total neoadjuvant therapy approach for localized rectal cancer; and biomarker-targeted therapy for metastatic colorectal cancer, with a focus on new treatment options for patients with BRAF V600E– or HER2 amplification–positive disease.