Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

UM/Sylvester Physicians Co-author Study on a New Standard for Treating Head and Neck Cancer


New clinical research findings just published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicate that using a new combination of chemotherapy drugs saves the lives of patients with head and neck cancer. Two University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center physicians co-authored the results of a study that found docetaxel (Taxotere®) was effective as an initial chemotherapy drug for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN), when used in combination with two other drugs. The study is published in the October 25th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Luis Raez, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P., director of the hematology-oncology clinics and co-leader of the Lung Cancer Site Disease Group, and Arnold Markoe, M.D., Sc.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology, treated 16 patients, making UM/Sylvester one of the largest of 55 sites in the United States, Canada, Europe and Argentina.

Squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck accounts for 5-percent of newly diagnosed cancers in adults in the United States, and 8-percent of cancers worldwide. The disease is potentially curable when diagnosed at an early stage, but most patients present with locally advanced forms of the disease.

Patients in the Phase III study were given either an initial chemotherapy treatment of cisplatin and fluorouracil (PF), which up until now has been the standard of care, or those same two drugs plus docetaxel.

“The goal is to try to improve survival and decrease the time to relapse,” said Dr. Raez. “Patients who received induction chemotherapy that included docetaxel, fared much better. They had a significantly longer 3-year survival, longer time to progression, and better overall survival than patients who received induction chemotherapy without docetaxel.”

This research, along with another European study, published in the same journal, “opens the door for a new standard in treating squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.” Following the first chemotherapy treatment, both sets of patients were later given chemoradiotherapy (chemotherapy concurrently with radiotherapy).

UM/Sylvester opened in 1992 to provide comprehensive cancer services and today serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. UM/Sylvester handles nearly 1,600 inpatient admissions annually, performs 2,600 surgical procedures, and treats 3,400 new cancer patients. All UM/Sylvester physicians are on the faculty of the Miller School of Medicine, South Florida’s only academic medical center. In addition, UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists are engaged in more than 250 clinical trials and receive more than $30 million annually in research grants. UM/Sylvester at Deerfield Beach opened in 2003 to better meet the needs of residents of Broward and Palm Beach counties. A major expansion is currently underway, which will double the size of this facility by adding diagnostic imaging services, additional chemotherapy chairs, and expanded exam rooms. Deerfield Beach offers appointments with physicians from 12 of UM/Sylvester’s 15 Site Disease Groups, complementary therapies from the Courtelis Center, and education and outreach events.

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