Chemotherapy plus radiation therapy for head and neck cancer increases survival rates of some patients

Adding weekly chemotherapy to radiation therapy significantly increases survival rates of patients with advanced head and neck cancer, a new University of Maryland Medical Center study indicates. The study found a 48 percent three-year survival rate among patients who received the combined therapy. The results will be presented at the 41st Annual Meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) on November 1 in San Antonio, TX.

"The standard treatment for these patients is radiation therapy alone, says Mohan Suntharalingam, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "At best, only 20 percent of these patients who cannot have surgery survive for five years. While there is no available data to show a three-year survival with just radiation therapy, it's probably closer to 30 percent. So adding chemotherapy represents a dramatic improvement in treatment," says Dr. Suntharalingam who is principal investigator.

Sixty patients were enrolled in the study. During the study, patients received weekly doses of two standard chemotherapy drugs, carboplatin and taxol, used together for the first time, in addition to radiation therapy five times a week for seven weeks. The patients in the study all had locally advanced cancer and/or cancer that had spread to nearby lymph nodes. Each patient was monitored to see if the cancer had responded to treatment. In 70 percent of the patients who had the combined treatment, there was complete remission of the disease. Patients were able to tolerate the combined treatment well with some side effects, including difficulty swallowing and skin irritation, says Dr. Suntharalingam.

Typically, people at highest risk of head and neck cancer are those who consume large amounts of alcohol and who smoke. There are more than 12,000 new case

Contact: Barbara Crawford
University of Maryland Medical Center

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