Background: The importance of tumour hypoxia for the outcome of radiotherapy has been under investigation for decades. Numerous clinical trials modifying the hypoxic radioresistance in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) have been conducted, but most have been inconclusive, partly due to a small number of patients in the individual trial. The present meta-analysis was, therefore, performed utilising the results from all clinical trials addressing the specific question of hypoxic modification in HNSCC undergoing curative intended primary radiotherapy alone.
Methods: A systematic review of published and unpublished data identified 4805 patients with HNSCC treated in 32 randomized clinical trials, applying, normobaric oxygen or carbogen breathing (5 trials); hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) (9 trials); hypoxic radiosensitizers (17 trials) and HBO and radiosensitizer (1 trial). The trials were analysed with regard to the following endpoints: loco-regional control (32 trials), disease specific survival (30 trials), overall survival (29 trials), distant metastases (12 trials) and complications to radiotherapy (23 trials).
Results: Overall hypoxic modification of radiotherapy in head and neck cancer did result in a significant improved therapeutic benefit. This was most dominantly observed when using the direct endpoint of loco-regional control with an odds ratio (OR) of 0.71, 95% cf.l. 0.63-0.80; p<0.001), but this was almost mirrored in the disease specific survival (OR: 0.73, 95% cf.l. 0.64-0.82; p<0.001), and to a lesser extent in the overall survival (OR: 0.87, 95% cf.l. 0.77-0.98; p=0.03). The risk of distant metastases was not significantly influenced although it appears to be less in the tumours treated with hypoxic modification (OR: 0.87, 95% cf.l. 0.69-1.09; p=0.22), whereas the radiation related late complications were not influenced by the overall use of hypoxic modifications (OR: 1.00, 95% cf.l. 0.82-1.23; p=0.96). The improvement in loco-regional control was found to be independent of the type of hypoxic modification. The trials have used different fractionation schedules, including large doses per fraction, which may result in relatively more hypoxia and greater benefit. However, analysis of HNSCC trials using conventional fractionation only, showed that the significant effect of hypoxic modification was maintained.
Conclusion: The meta-analysis thus demonstrates that there is level 1a evidence in favour of adding hypoxic modification to radiotherapy of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.