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Three Chemo Drugs Better Than Two for Advanced Head/Neck Cancers
Date:10/24/2007

Addition of docetaxel improved efficacy and reduced toxicity, studies find,,,,

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The addition of the chemotherapy drug, docetaxel, to the standard two-drug regimen used for head and neck cancers improved the efficacy of the treatment while reducing the toxicity, two new studies report.

The triple drug chemotherapy regimen was so effective that it increased survival in both studies and more than doubled the average overall survival in one of the studies.

"This is a study that demonstrates that a three-drug regimen is better by a substantial amount in terms of survival for head and neck cancer. There was a 30 percent reduction in mortality with less toxicity," said Dr. Marshall R. Posner, lead author of the first study and medical director of the head and neck oncology program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "This is a wonderful step forward for patients."

Results from both clinical trials are published in the Oct. 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Both studies were funded, at least partially, by Sanofi-Aventis, the manufacturer of docetaxel.

About 3 percent to 5 percent of all cancers in the United States are head and neck cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. That means almost 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with these cancers each year. They most commonly occur in people over 50, and the biggest risk factor for head and neck cancers is tobacco use.

Treatment for these cancers can be difficult, because surgical removal of tumors can affect the way a person chews, talks and swallows. In some cases, it's impossible to surgically remove some of these cancers, because the risk of harm outweighs the potential benefit. The cancer is then referred to as unresectable.

The study done by Posner and his colleagues included 501 people with advanced -- stage III or IV -- head and neck cancers. None of the volun
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