The role of chemotherapy in head and neck cancer

Am J Clin Oncol. 1997 Oct;20(5):449-61. doi: 10.1097/00000421-199710000-00004.


We studied the effect of cytoreductive chemotherapy in head and neck cancer and analyzed it in terms of efficacy, remission rates, and duration, as well effect on survival. Single-agent chemotherapy, which formerly was used as a palliative therapy in recurrent and metastatic disease, had little affect on survival. More recently, multi-agent chemotherapy trials have shown significantly higher response rates, but this success has not translated into an added survival benefit. These findings led to the introduction of multi-agent chemotherapy into the induction (neoadjuvant) clinical setting. In these clinical circumstances, better objective response rates were found, particularly in the previously untreated patient. Although this therapy has resulted in better control of local disease, the impact on survival is not yet clear. Adjuvant chemotherapy is most useful in patients who have a high risk of relapse. Therapy appears to decrease its incidence, particularly at distant sites. Finally, chemoradiation trials have shown that this treatment provides a survival advantage, but at the cost of a significant increase in toxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / prevention & control
  • Palliative Care
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • Remission Induction
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents