SAN FRANCISCOIn patients with potentially resectable cancer
of the larynx, concurrent chemoradiotherapy cuts in half the incidence of
larynx removal vs radiation therapy aloneand vs the current standard of care
of induction chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy, Arlene A. Forastiere,
MD, reported at the 37th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical
"This is the new standard of care for treatment of
patients with advanced larynx cancer, based on this study," said Dr.
Forastiere, professor of oncology and otolaryngology, Johns Hopkins Oncology
Center. She presented results of a large, randomized study (R91-11) on behalf
of the Head and Neck Intergroup.
Concurrent treatment resulted in a 50% reduction in larynx
removal vs radiation therapy alone, establishing concurrent chemoradiotherapy
as the best nonsurgical treatment method for preserving the voice among
patients with advanced larynx cancer.
"The curves plateau, such that there is a 15% chance of
losing the larynx with concurrent treatment vs a 30% to 35% chance with other
treatments," Dr. Forastiere said.
The Intergroup study included 547 patients with potentially
resectable stage III-IV larynx cancer randomized to (1) three cycles of
induction chemotherapycisplatin (Platinol) and 5-FUplus radiation therapy
for responders; (2) concurrent cisplatin/5-FU with radiation therapy; or (3)
radiation therapy alone as the control arm. The larynx was surgically removed
only in patients who did not respond. The primary endpoint was laryngectomy-free
At 2 years, 68% of patients who had received concurrent
chemoradiotherapy were alive with their larynx, compared with 58% for
sequential chemotherapy/radiation therapy, and 53% for radiation therapy alone.
Overall larynx preservation during a patient’s lifetime,
"most important in this study, for us," Dr. Forastiere said, was 88%
for concurrent chemoradiotherapy, compared with 74% for chemotherapy plus
radiation therapy and 69% for radiation therapy alone. Survival at 2 years
(76%) did not vary among the three treatment groups.
The findings illustrate the progress made in treatment of
larynx cancer in the United States over the past decade. Larynx removal was the
standard of care until 10 years ago. Since 1991, induction chemotherapy has
made preservation of the voice possible.
"Another way to look at itwhich really shows you the
change in this field over the past 10 yearsis that 10 years ago, everyone
lost their larynx," Dr. Forastiere said. "Now, with this treatment,
only 15% of patients lose their larynx."
The discussant, Gregory T. Wolf, MD, University of Michigan
Health System, said that the study added evidence that chemotherapy plus
radiation therapy is better than radiation therapy alone; however, he said that
the best approach to organ preservation is "yet to be defined."
He indicated that further research should look more closely at
patterns of relapse and complications of concurrent chemoradiotherapy (ie,
strictures, radiation necrosis, chronic edema) as well as other factors.
"None of these approaches provides better survival rates than
surgery," he said.
In terms of treating specific patients, Dr. Forastiere said the
concurrent chemoradiotherapy regimen would be the recommended
voice-preservation option for patients with advanced laryngeal cancer. However,
for patients with little support at home or other significant medical problems,
radiation therapy alone would be the treatment of choice.
"In all cases," she said, "patients should be
followed closely during treatment by a head and neck surgeon, so that surgery
can be performed if there is residual or recurrent cancer after
The synergism between radiation therapy and chemotherapy is
also under study in the setting of other head and neck cancers.