Medline: 9323144

Head and Neck 19(7): 567-575, 1997.

A phase III randomized trial comparing concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy with radiotherapy alone in resectable stage III and IV squamous cell head and neck cancer: preliminary results.

Adelstein DJ, Saxton JP, Lavertu P, et al.


A phase III randomized comparison of radiotherapy alone versus combination chemotherapy and concurrent continuous-course radiotherapy was performed at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Between March 1990 and June 1995, 100 patients with resectable stage III and IV squamous cell head and neck cancer were randomized to either Arm A: radiotherapy alone, 68-72 Gy at 1.8-2.0 Gy per day; or to Arm B: the identical radiotherapy with concurrent chemotherapy. Chemotherapy consisted of 5-fluorouracil, 1000 mg/m2/day, and cisplatin 20 mg/m2/ day, both given as continuous intravenous infusions over 4 days beginning on day 1 and day 22 of the radiotherapy. At 50-55 Gy, patients were clinically reassessed. If a response was evident, radiotherapy was completed. In non-responding patients, however, radiotherapy was terminated and surgery recommended. After completion of all treatment, salvage surgery was performed, if possible, for any residual primary or nodal disease or for any subsequent locoregional recurrence.

Except for an overrepresentation of T1 patients on Arm A, the treatment arms were equivalent. Toxicity was greater in the patients on Arm B with a higher incidence of grade III and IV neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, cutaneous reaction, and mucositis. Feeding tubes were also required more often, and weight loss was greater on the chemotherapy arm. No toxic deaths occurred. With a median follow-up of 36 months, the Kaplan-Meier 3-year projections of relapse-free survival are 52% for Arm A and 67% for Arm B (p = .03), and the likelihood of developing hematogenous metastases is 21% for Arm A and 10% for Arm B (p = .04). Although overall survival is not significantly different, overall survival with successful primary site preservation was 35% for Arm A and 57% for Arm B (p = .02). This difference remains statistically significant in the subsets of patients with laryngeal and hypopharyngeal primaries but not in patients with oropharyngeal primaries.

Continuous-course radiotherapy and concurrent combination chemotherapy is an intensive, toxic but tolerable treatment regimen, which, when compared with radio therapy alone, can produce an improvement in relapse-free survival, a decrease in distant metastases, and an improvement in overall survival with successful primary site preservation.

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Dr. G. Quade