Meta-analysis of chemotherapy in head and neck cancer (MACH-NC): An update on 107 randomized trials and 19,805 patients, on behalf of MACH-NC Group

Radiother Oncol. 2021 Mar;156:281-293. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2021.01.013. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Background and purpose: The Meta-Analysis of Chemotherapy in squamous cell Head and Neck Cancer (MACH-NC) demonstrated that concomitant chemotherapy (CT) improved overall survival (OS) in patients without distant metastasis. We report the updated results.

Materials and methods: Published or unpublished randomized trials including patients with non-metastatic carcinoma randomized between 1965 and 2016 and comparing curative loco-regional treatment (LRT) to LRT + CT or adding another timing of CT to LRT + CT (main question), or comparing induction CT + radiotherapy to radiotherapy + concomitant (or alternating) CT (secondary question) were eligible. Individual patient data were collected and combined using a fixed-effect model. OS was the main endpoint.

Results: For the main question, 101 trials (18951 patients, median follow-up of 6.5 years) were analyzed. For both questions, there were 16 new (2767 patients) and 11 updated trials. Around 90% of the patients had stage III or IV disease. Interaction between treatment effect on OS and the timing of CT was significant (p < 0.0001), the benefit being limited to concomitant CT (HR: 0.83, 95%CI [0.79; 0.86]; 5(10)-year absolute benefit of 6.5% (3.6%)). Efficacy decreased as patients age increased (p_trend = 0.03). OS was not increased by the addition of induction (HR = 0.96 [0.90; 1.01]) or adjuvant CT (1.02 [0.92; 1.13]). Efficacy of induction CT decreased with poorer performance status (p_trend = 0.03). For the secondary question, eight trials (1214 patients) confirmed the superiority of concomitant CT on OS (HR = 0.84 [0.74; 0.95], p = 0.005).

Conclusion: The update of MACH-NC confirms the benefit and superiority of the addition of concomitant CT for non-metastatic head and neck cancer.

Keywords: Chemotherapy; Head and Neck Cancer; Individual Patient Data; Meta-analysis; Radiotherapy; Randomised Clinical Trials.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / drug therapy
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Induction Chemotherapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic