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Drug May Improve Survival in Head and Neck Cancer

Study suggests adding cetuximab to radiation prolongs survival out to five years

THURSDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Adding cetuximab to radiation treatment improves long-term five-year survival in patients with head and neck cancer, according to a study published online Nov. 7 in The Lancet Oncology.

James A Bonner, M.D., from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and colleagues report updated survival data from a clinical trial of 424 patients with locoregionally advanced squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck who were randomly assigned to comprehensive head and neck radiotherapy alone or radiotherapy plus weekly doses of cetuximab.

The researchers found that the addition of cetuximab significantly increased median overall survival (49.0 versus 29.3 months; hazard ratio, 0.73) and five-year overall survival (45.6 versus 36.4 percent), consistent with earlier assessments. Cetuximab patients who developed a grade 2 or higher acneiform rash had significantly better overall survival than patients who did not develop a rash or developed a lower grade rash (68.8 versus 25.6 months; hazard ratio, 0.49).

"In summary, these updated survival results show that cetuximab provides a long-term and clinically significant survival advantage (9 percent absolute survival advantage at five years) relative to radiotherapy alone for the management of locoregionally advanced squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck," Bonner and colleagues conclude. The results "provide further support for considering the combination of cetuximab and radiotherapy as a standard option in the treatment of locoregionally advanced squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck."

The study was funded by ImClone Systems, Merck KGaA, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Several authors also reported financial or consulting relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

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