Randomized comparison of cisplatin plus fluorouracil and carboplatin plus fluorouracil versus methotrexate in advanced squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck: a Southwest Oncology Group study

J Clin Oncol. 1992 Aug;10(8):1245-51. doi: 10.1200/JCO.1992.10.8.1245.


Purpose: The Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) conducted a randomized comparison of cisplatin plus fluorouracil (5-FU) and carboplatin plus 5-FU versus single-agent methotrexate (MTX) in patients with recurrent and metastatic squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck. The primary objective was to compare separately the response rates of each combination regimen to standard weekly MTX.

Patients and methods: Two hundred seventy-seven patients diagnosed with SCC of the head and neck were randomized to one of three treatments: (1) cisplatin 100 mg/m2 intravenously (IV) on day 1 and 5-FU 1,000 mg/m2 per day for a 96-hour continuous infusion repeated every 21 days; (2) carboplatin 300 mg/m2 IV on day 1 and 5-FU 1,000 mg/m2 per day for a 96-hour continuous infusion repeated every 28 days; and (3) MTX 40 mg/m2 IV given weekly.

Results: All three treatment regimens were well tolerated. However, both hematologic and nonhematologic toxicities were significantly greater with cisplatin plus 5-FU compared with MTX (P = .001). Toxicity from carboplatin plus 5-FU was intermediate compared with the other regimens. The complete and partial response rates were 32% for cisplatin plus 5-FU, 21% for carboplatin plus 5-FU, and 10% for MTX. The comparison of cisplatin plus 5-FU to MTX was statistically significant (P less than .001), and the comparison of carboplatin plus 5-FU to MTX was of borderline statistical significance (P = .05). Median response durations and median survival times were similar for all three treatment groups. Logistic regression models showed that only treatment assigned was associated significantly with response (P = .001). Cox proportional hazards models indicated that only performance status was associated significantly with survival (P less than .01).

Conclusions: We conclude that combination chemotherapy resulted in improved response rates but was associated with an increased toxicity and no improvement in overall survival. Therefore, new treatments that may alter the course of disease in recurrent head and neck cancer patients still need to be identified.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Carboplatin / administration & dosage
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / secondary
  • Cisplatin / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / administration & dosage
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Methotrexate / adverse effects
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Carboplatin
  • Cisplatin
  • Fluorouracil
  • Methotrexate