Background: Radiotherapy is often the primary treatment for advanced head and neck cancer, but the rates of locoregional recurrence are high and survival is poor. We investigated whether hyperfractionated irradiation plus concurrent chemotherapy (combined treatment) is superior to hyperfractionated irradiation alone.
Methods: Patients with advanced head and neck cancer who were treated only with hyperfractionated irradiation received 125 cGy twice daily, for a total of 7500 cGy. Patients in the combined-treatment group received 125 cGy twice daily, for a total of 7000 cGy, and five days of treatment with 12 mg of cisplatin per square meter of body-surface area per day and 600 mg of fluorouracil per square meter per day during weeks 1 and 6 of irradiation. Two cycles of cisplatin and fluorouracil were given to most patients after the completion of radiotherapy.
Results: Of 122 patients who underwent randomization, 116 were included in the analysis. Most patients in both treatment groups had unresectable disease. The median follow-up was 41 months (range, 19 to 86). At three years the rate of overall survival was 55 percent in the combined-therapy group and 34 percent in the hyperfractionation group (P=0.07). The relapse-free survival rate was higher in the combined-treatment group (61 percent vs. 41 percent, P=0.08). The rate of locoregional control of disease at three years was 70 percent in the combined-treatment group and 44 percent in the hyperfractionation group (P=0.01). Confluent mucositis developed in 77 percent and 75 percent of the two groups, respectively. Severe complications occurred in three patients in the hyperfractionation group and five patients in the combined-treatment group.
Conclusions: Combined treatment for advanced head and neck cancer is more efficacious and not more toxic than hyperfractionated irradiation alone.