Purpose: Assess efficacy and toxicity of gefitinib, an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitor, added to, and in maintenance after, concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CCRT) in locally advanced head and neck cancer (LA-HNC) and correlate outcomes with EGFR gene copy number alterations.
Patients and methods: Patients with stage III to IV LA-HNC received two cycles of carboplatin/paclitaxel induction chemotherapy (IC) followed by split-course CCRT with fluorouracil, hydroxyurea, twice daily radiotherapy (FHX), and gefitinib (250 mg daily) followed by continued gefitinib for 2 years total. The primary end point was complete response (CR) rate after CCRT. EGFR gene copy number was assessed by fluorescent in situ hybridization.
Results: Sixty-nine patients (66 with stage IV disease, 37 with oropharynx primary tumors, and 67 with performance status 0 to 1) were enrolled with a median age of 55 years. Predominant grade 3 or 4 toxicities during IC and CCRT were neutropenia (n = 20) and in-field mucositis (n = 59) and dermatitis (n = 23), respectively. CR rate after CCRT was 90%. After median follow-up of 3.5 years, 4-year overall, progression-free, and disease-specific survival rates were 74%, 72%, and 89%, respectively. To date, one patient has developed a second primary tumor in the aerodigestive tract. In 31 patients with available tissue, high EGFR gene copy number was associated with worse overall survival (P = .02).
Conclusion: Gefitinib can be administered with FHX and as maintenance therapy for at least 2 years, demonstrating CR and survival rates that compare favorably with prior experience. High EGFR gene copy number may be associated with poor outcome in patients with LA-HNC treated with this regimen.