Stereotactic body radiation therapy plus cetuximab: Promising Tx for head and neck cancers

November 2, 2010
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According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), a radiation therapy procedure that precisely delivers a large dose of radiation to tumors, may effectively control and treat head and neck cancers when combined with the chemotherapeutic agent cetuximab.

The study, led by Dwight E. Heron, MD, professor of otolaryngology and vice-chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, enrolled 24 patients with recurrent head and neck cancers who had previously undergone radiation therapy treatment. Patients received cetuximab 1 week before and during the 2-week course of SBRT. The study showed that the regimen is a safe treatment option and may improve overall patient survival rates.

According to Dr. Heron, the study is important because surgical treatments for many patients with recurrent, locally advanced head and neck cancers are frequently limited, while other treatments either fail to adequately control the disease progression or are too toxic for patients to manage.

The combination of cetuximab, which has been shown to enhance the effect of radiation therapy in patients with newly diagnosed head and neck cancers, and SBRT reduced treatment time from 6 weeks to 1 week while improving the side effects of retreatment.

“We think this combination also may improve local control and perhaps survival rates, as we have seen in our own retrospective series. Most importantly, this study contributes to the emerging data fueled by UPCI suggesting a role for SBRT in patients with recurrent head and neck cancers,” says Dr. Heron.

This study was funded by UPCI’s Department of Radiation Oncology.