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Br J Cancer. 1990 May; 61(5): 779–787.
PMCID: PMC1971597

Adjuvant chemotherapy in head and neck cancer.


An overview is presented of 23 trials of adjuvant chemotherapy in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. These were reviewed from the point of view of design of the trial, analysis of survival, response rates, meta-analysis, site of failure, toxicity and cost. The minimal increase in survival that could be detected ranged from 11 to 51%, with a median of 25%. No trial was big enough to detect the likely increase of survival, which is 5%. Many trials excluded some eligible patients before randomisation, the proportion being 21% in those series with details. A further 9% of treated patients were excluded from analysis. A response rate in four induction studies of 47% equated with a 6% increase in cancer mortality. Meta-analysis showed an insignificant overall improvement in cancer mortality of 0.5%. Induction chemotherapy, synchronous chemotherapy and induction/maintenance chemotherapy did not affect cancer mortality whereas synchronous/maintenance therapy did. Cisplatinum, methotrexate, bleomycin, 5-FU and a variety of other regimens did not affect the death rate from cancer, but the combination of VBM significantly increased it. Neither single agent nor combination chemotherapy produced a significant reduction of cancer deaths. The rate of locoregional failure was significantly lower in the treated arms, whereas the metastatic rate was similar in both arms. Only three papers gave full details of toxicity with grading: these showed a high toxicity rate. The mortality rate from chemotherapy in nine series averaged 6.5%.

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