Oncology Central

Reduced toxicity for recurrent head & neck cancer patients with targeted radiation and drug therapy combination

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John Vargo’s team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CancerCenter (PA, USA) have provided evidence that a combination therapy is associated with fewer side effects compared with traditional radiation treatments for patients with recurrent squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Results of the study were presented at the 2014 American Society of Radiation Oncology annual meeting (held 14–17 September, San Francisco, CA, USA).

“The prognosis for patients who have a recurrence of head and neck cancer that cannot be surgically removed is already poor. Traditional treatments can be associated with significant side effects so severe that patients give up on the therapy altogether,” explained Dwight E Heron, director of Radiation Oncology Services at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CancerCenter.

The combination therapy investigated in this study combines two treatment strategies: the cancer drug cetuximab and stereotactic body radiation therapy, which is utilized to deliver concentrated high-dose radiation.

Following initial radiation treatment for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, 48 patients were given the combination therapy between July 2007 and March 2013. Combination therapy was administered to patients over a time period of approximately 2 weeks, compared with the up to 9 weeks it can take to complete pre-existing treatment regimes, and all patients completed the therapy. Researchers measured the toxicity associated with the combination therapy, which patients reported at 12% severe toxicity. This represented a significant reduction compared with individuals receiving traditional treatment, who experienced 85% and above severe toxicity.

“The good news here is that we improved their quality of life and did it safely,” commented Vargo, highlighting the successes of the trial. “Unfortunately, outcomes using this approach are still challenging so the next part of our research will concentrate on continuing to find ways to improve outcomes by integrating additional novel systemic agents,” he added.

Source: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center press release

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