SAN ANTONIO Pretreatment with amifostine (Ethyol) reduced the
incidence of both acute and chronic xero-stomia in patients
undergoing head and neck radiotherapy, David M. Brizel, MD, reported
at the 41st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society for
Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO).
Acute and chronic xerostomia and acute mucositis are the most common
and clinically significant toxicities associated with radiotherapy
for head and neck cancer.
We all know that xerostomia arises in our patients who are
irradiated for head and neck cancer, and that there are often
lifelong consequences from this, said Dr. Brizel, associate
professor of radiation oncology, Duke University Medical Center.
Xerostomia does, in fact, cause significant problems for these
patients with respect to activities of daily living, dental health,
and overall well being, he continued.
The study, an open-label, phase III, multi-institutional, randomized
trial, was performed to test whether amifostine could protect against
xerostomia and mucositis in head and neck cancer patients receiving
radiotherapy without compromising the antitumor efficacy of the
From October 1995 to October 1997, 315 patients were randomized, of
whom 303 were actually treated, Dr. Brizel reported. The median
follow up is now greater than 2 years. The study population consisted
of patients with newly diagnosed, previously untreated head and neck
squamous cell carcinoma. Inclusion of greater than 75% of both
parotid glands within the radiation fields was required. Almost half
of all primary tumors originated in the oropharynx.
This was a randomized trial in which patients in both arms
received once-daily standard-fraction radiation therapy to total
doses of 50 Gy to 70 Gy, Dr. Brizel said.
The patients in the treatment arm received intravenous amifostine
(200 mg/m²) every day, 15 to 30 minutes prior to radiotherapy.
Primary endpoints of the study included the incidence of grade 2 or
higher acute xerostomia (defined as xerostomia developing during
treatment and persisting to within 90 days after the completion of
therapy); grade 3 or higher acute mucositis; and grade 2 or higher
late xerostomia (defined as xerostomia persisting 1 year
Type of irradiation (definitive vs postoperative) was included in the
stratification parameters, as well as treatment center, primary tumor
site, and nodal status. The treatment consisted of isocentric
external beam megavoltage irradiation given at 180 to 200 cGy daily,
with definitive irradiation prescribed to 66 Gy to 70 Gy.
Approximately two thirds of the patients received postoperative
irradiation, which was further subclassified into high risk (60 Gy to
64 Gy) and low risk (50 Gy to 54 Gy).
Amifostine significantly reduced the incidence of grade 2 or higher
acute xerostomia from 78% to 51% (P < .0001). Moreover, the
radiation dose at which half of the patients had acute grade 2
xerostomia is significantly lower in the patients treated with
radiotherapy alone. In other words, for 50% of the patients to
develop grade 2 xerostomia, you needed to give much more radiation
(60 Gy vs 42 Gy) if amifostine was on board each day, Dr.
For late xerostomia across all grades, we see a statistically
significant reduction in overall xero-stomia favoring the patients
who received amifostine. If we confine our analysis to the
study-specific endpoint of grade 2 or higher late xero-stomia, we see
that about one third of the patients treated with amifostine had late
xerostomia, whereas nearly 60% of the patients treated with
radiotherapy alone had this problem, Dr. Brizel said.
Unstimulated saliva production 1 year after treatment was
significantly greater for patients who received amifostine (0.26 g vs
0.1 g for those patients who were treated with radiation alone).
If one reviews the oral surgery and dental literature, this 0.1
g appears to be a clinically relevant quantity, Dr. Brizel
said. Patients whose saliva production is below this threshold
tend to have more complaints of xerostomia.
Only 49% of the patients treated with radiation alone were able to
exceed this 0.1 g saliva production threshold, whereas nearly three
quarters of the patients who received amifostine with radiation had
clinically significant saliva production, he added.
Mucositis, grade 3 or higher, occurred in 35% of the patients in the
amifostine group and in 39% of the radiotherapy-alone patients.
There was no mucosal protection afforded by the drug in this
trial, he said.
Improved Quality of Life
Dr. Brizel added that patients receiving amifostine also experienced
improved quality of life, as indicated by their responses to a
10-item questionnaire that evaluated symptoms at baseline, during
weekly treatment, and at each follow-up visit.
Overall 2-year survival was similar in both groups (71% for the
amifostine patients and 66% for the radiotherapy-alone group).
So, in this trial, we demonstrated that amifostine provided
significant protection against acute and late xerostomia without any
compromise of antitumor efficacy, and that it was safe at the dose
delivered, Dr. Brizel concluded.