Background: We performed a prospective, randomized study in patients with previously untreated advanced (Stage III or IV) laryngeal squamous carcinoma to compare the results of induction chemotherapy followed by definitive radiation therapy with those of conventional laryngectomy and postoperative radiation.
Methods: Three hundred thirty-two patients were randomly assigned to receive either three cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin and fluorouracil) and radiation therapy or surgery and radiation therapy. The clinical tumor response was assessed after two cycles of chemotherapy, and patients with a response received a third cycle followed by definitive radiation therapy (6600 to 7600 cGy). Patients in whom ther was no tumor response or who had locally recurrent cancers after chemotherapy and radiation therapy underwent salvage laryngectomy.
Results: After two cycles of chemotherapy, the clinical tumor response was complete in 31 percent of the patients and partial in 54 percent. After a median follow-up of 33 months, the estimated 2-year survival was 68 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 60 to 76 percent) for both treatment groups (P = 0.9846). Patterns of recurrence differed significantly between the two groups, with more local recurrences (P = 0.0005) and fewer distant metastases (P = 0.016) in the chemotherapy group than in the surgery group. A total of 59 patients in the chemotherapy group (36 percent) required total laryngectomy. The larynx was preserved in 64 percent of the patients overall and 64 percent of the patients who were alive and free of disease.
Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest a new role for chemotherapy in patients with advanced laryngeal cancer and indicate that a treatment strategy involving induction chemotherapy and definitive radiation therapy can be effective in preserving the larynx in a high percentage of patients, without compromising overall survival.