Interventions for the treatment of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer: chemotherapy

Susan Furness, Anne-Marie Glenny, Helen V. Worthington, Sue Pavitt, Richard Oliver, Jan E. Clarkson, Michaelina Macluskey, Kelvin K. W. Chan, David I. Conway, CSROC Expert Panel

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    Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers are frequently described as part of a group of oral cancers or head and neck cancer. Treatment of oral cavity cancer is generally surgery followed by radiotherapy, whereas oropharyngeal cancers, which are more likely to be advanced at the time of diagnosis, are managed with radiotherapy or chemoradiation. Surgery for oral cancers can be disfiguring and both surgery and radiotherapy have significant functional side effects, notably impaired ability to eat, drink and talk. The development of new chemotherapy agents, new combinations of agents and changes in the relative timing of surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy treatments may potentially bring about increases in both survival and quality of life for this group of patients.


    To determine whether chemotherapy, in addition to radiotherapy and/or surgery for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer results in improved survival, disease free survival, progression free survival, locoregional control and reduced recurrence of disease. To determine which regimen and time of administration (induction, concomitant or adjuvant) is associated with better outcomes.

    Search strategy

    Electronic searches of the Cochrane Oral Health Group's Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED were undertaken on 28th July 2010. Reference lists of recent reviews and included studies were also searched to identify further trials.

    Selection criteria

    Randomised controlled trials where more than 50% of participants had primary tumours in the oral cavity or oropharynx, and which compared the addition of chemotherapy to other treatments such as radiotherapy and/or surgery, or compared two or more chemotherapy regimens or modes of administration, were included.

    Data collection and analysis

    Trials which met the inclusion criteria were assessed for risk of bias using six domains: sequence generation, allocation concealment, blinding, completeness of outcome data, selective reporting and other possible sources of bias. Data were extracted using a specially designed form and entered into the characteristics of included studies table and the analysis sections of the review. The proportion of participants in each trial with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers are recorded in Additional Table 1.

    Main results

    There was no statistically significant improvement in overall survival associated with induction chemotherapy compared to locoregional treatment alone in 25 trials (hazard ratio (HR) of mortality 0.92, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.84 to 1.00). Post-surgery adjuvant chemotherapy was associated with improved overall survival compared to surgery +/- radiotherapy alone in 10 trials (HR of mortality 0.88, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.99), and there was an additional benefit of adjuvant concomitant chemoradiotherapy compared to radiotherapy in 4 of these trials (HR of mortality 0.84, 95% CI 0.72 to 0.98). Concomitant chemoradiotherapy resulted in improved survival compared to radiotherapy alone in patients whose tumours were considered unresectable in 25 trials (HR of mortality 0.79, 95% CI 0.74 to 0.84). However, the additional toxicity attributable to chemotherapy in the combined regimens remains unquantified.

    Authors' conclusions Chemotherapy, in addition to radiotherapy and surgery, is associated with improved overall survival in patients with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. Induction chemotherapy is associated with a 9% increase in survival and adjuvant concomitant chemoradiotherapy is associated with a 16% increase in overall survival following surgery. In patients with unresectable tumours, concomitant chemoradiotherapy showed a 22% benefit in overall survival compared with radiotherapy alone.

    This review is published as a Cochrane Review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 9. Cochrane Reviews are regularly updated as new evidence emerges and in response to comments and criticisms, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews should be consulted for the most recent version of the Review.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberCD006386
    Pages (from-to)-
    Number of pages222
    JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 2010




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