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June 2, 2007
Adding the drug cetuximab (Erbitux) to chemotherapy for the initial treatment of head and neck cancer that is metastatic (has spread to other areas of the body) or recurrent (has come back after treatment) extends patients' lives, according to a new study. Most patients in the study had cancers of the larynx (voice box) or pharynx (throat).
In this clinical trial, 222 patients received cetuximab and chemotherapy consisting of fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil) and either cisplatin (Platinol) or carboplatin (Paraplatin), and 220 patients received only chemotherapy. Patients who received cetuximab lived an average of 10 months, while those who did not receive cetuximab lived for an average of seven months. The most common side effect for patients who received cetuximab was an acne-like rash that was treatable and eventually went away.
"The length of time these patients survived is among the longest ever seen in a large clinical trial," said Jan Baptist Vermorken, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and lead author of the study. "With new targeted agents such as cetuximab, we are on the brink of changing the way we treat patients with head and neck cancers."
What This Means for Patients
This is the first study to show that cetuximab is an effective treatment for a large group of patients with this type of head and neck cancer when used as the first treatment. In the United States, cetuximab is approved for the treatment of head and neck cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes and/or outside the place where the tumor started when given in combination with radiation therapy, or it can be used alone in patients with metastatic or recurrent cancer. It is also used to treat cancers that persist after initial treatment. Patients with head and neck cancer are encouraged to talk with their doctors about their treatment options.