Head and Neck Cancers Coverage from Every Angle
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Can Immunotherapy Improve Response to Salvage Chemotherapy in Head/Neck Cancer?

By: Joshua Swore
Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A retrospective study from a research consortium in France has revealed that exposure to immune checkpoint inhibitors may increase tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy in patients with recurrent and/or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. According to study author Khalil Saleh, MD, of Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus, Villejuif, France, and colleagues, prospective clinical trials and large cohorts are needed to confirm these findings and optimize the sequencing of cytotoxic agents and immunotherapies in this patient population. Study results were reported in the European Journal of Cancer.

The study evaluated 82 patients with recurrent/metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck across four centers in France from September 2014 to January 2018. The patients were separated into two groups: 45% received immunotherapy as monotherapy and 55% received it as combination therapy. The immunotherapies included PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4 inhibitors. After immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy, all patients received salvage chemotherapy (from second-line through seventh-line treatments).

Researchers found the objective response rate was 30% in patients who received immune checkpoint inhibitors as first-line treatment. A total of 3 patients (4%) had a complete response, and 22 patients (27%) had a partial response. The median progression-free survival was 3.6 months, and the median overall survival was 7.8 months, with a median follow-up of 11.5 months.

The authors noted this result is three to five times higher than the best objective response rate reported in other studies using immune checkpoint inhibitors as second-line treatment. Furthermore, the results of this study are consistent with those from other retrospective studies looking at objective response rate to immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients with non–small cell lung cancer.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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