Safety of Nivolumab Added to Chemoradiation Therapy Platforms for Intermediate and High-Risk Locoregionally Advanced Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma: RTOG Foundation 3504

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2023 Mar 15;115(4):847-860. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2022.10.008. Epub 2022 Oct 11.


Purpose: Programmed death-1 immune checkpoint blockade improves survival of patients with recurrent/metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), but the benefits of addition to (chemo)radiation for newly diagnosed patients with HNSCC remain unknown.

Methods and materials: We evaluated the safety of nivolumab concomitant with 70 Gy intensity modulated radiation therapy and weekly cisplatin (arm 1), every 3-week cisplatin (arm 2), cetuximab (arm 3), or alone for platinum-ineligible patients (arm 4) in newly diagnosed intermediate- or high-risk locoregionally advanced HNSCC. Patients received nivolumab from 2 weeks prior to radiation therapy until 3 months post-radiation therapy. The primary endpoint was dose-limiting toxicity (DLT). If ≤2 of the first 8 evaluable patients experienced a DLT, an arm was considered safe. Secondary endpoints included toxicity and feasibility of adjuvant nivolumab to 1 year, defined as all 7 additional doses received by ≥4 of the first 8 evaluable patients across arms.

Results: Of 39 patients (10 in arms 1, 3, 4 and 9 in arm 2), 72% had T3-4 tumors, 85% had N2-3 nodal disease, and 67% had >10 pack-years of smoking. There were no DLTs in arms 1 and 2, 1 in arm 3 (mucositis), and 2 in arm 4 (lipase elevation and mucositis in 1 and fatigue in another). The most common grade ≥3 nivolumab-related adverse events were lipase increase, mucositis, diarrhea, lymphopenia, hyponatremia, leukopenia, fatigue, and serum amylase increase. Adjuvant nivolumab was feasible as defined in the protocol.

Conclusions: Concomitant nivolumab with the 4 tested regimens was safe for patients with intermediate- and high-risk HNSCC, and subsequent adjuvant nivolumab was feasible as defined (NCT02764593).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / pathology
  • Cisplatin / therapeutic use
  • Fatigue / drug therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Mucositis*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Nivolumab / therapeutic use
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / drug therapy


  • Nivolumab
  • Cisplatin

Associated data