Platinum-based chemotherapy plus cetuximab in head and neck cancer

N Engl J Med. 2008 Sep 11;359(11):1116-27. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0802656.


Background: Cetuximab is effective in platinum-resistant recurrent or metastatic squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck. We investigated the efficacy of cetuximab plus platinum-based chemotherapy as first-line treatment in patients with recurrent or metastatic squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Methods: We randomly assigned 220 of 442 eligible patients with untreated recurrent or metastatic squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck to receive cisplatin (at a dose of 100 mg per square meter of body-surface area on day 1) or carboplatin (at an area under the curve of 5 mg per milliliter per minute, as a 1-hour intravenous infusion on day 1) plus fluorouracil (at a dose of 1000 mg per square meter per day for 4 days) every 3 weeks for a maximum of 6 cycles and 222 patients to receive the same chemotherapy plus cetuximab (at a dose of 400 mg per square meter initially, as a 2-hour intravenous infusion, then 250 mg per square meter, as a 1-hour intravenous infusion per week) for a maximum of 6 cycles. Patients with stable disease who received chemotherapy plus cetuximab continued to receive cetuximab until disease progression or unacceptable toxic effects, whichever occurred first.

Results: Adding cetuximab to platinum-based chemotherapy with fluorouracil (platinum-fluorouracil) significantly prolonged the median overall survival from 7.4 months in the chemotherapy-alone group to 10.1 months in the group that received chemotherapy plus cetuximab (hazard ratio for death, 0.80; 95% confidence interval, 0.64 to 0.99; P=0.04). The addition of cetuximab prolonged the median progression-free survival time from 3.3 to 5.6 months (hazard ratio for progression, 0.54; P<0.001) and increased the response rate from 20% to 36% (P<0.001). The most common grade 3 or 4 adverse events in the chemotherapy-alone and cetuximab groups were anemia (19% and 13%, respectively), neutropenia (23% and 22%), and thrombocytopenia (11% in both groups). Sepsis occurred in 9 patients in the cetuximab group and in 1 patient in the chemotherapy-alone group (P=0.02). Of 219 patients receiving cetuximab, 9% had grade 3 skin reactions and 3% had grade 3 or 4 infusion-related reactions. There were no cetuximab-related deaths.

Conclusions: As compared with platinum-based chemotherapy plus fluorouracil alone, cetuximab plus platinum-fluorouracil chemotherapy improved overall survival when given as first-line treatment in patients with recurrent or metastatic squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck. ( number, NCT00122460.)

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anemia / chemically induced
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / administration & dosage*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / adverse effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Carboplatin / administration & dosage
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / secondary
  • Cetuximab
  • Cisplatin / administration & dosage
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / administration & dosage
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Carboplatin
  • Cetuximab
  • Cisplatin
  • Fluorouracil

Associated data