London: Treating head and neck cancer patients with a twice-daily radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy may reduce their risk of death from the disease, a new study has claimed.
The study, led by Claire Petit from Gustave Roussy Cancer Centre in France, included patients with tumours in their mouths, throats or voice boxes, that had already begun to spread to neighbouring tissue.
These patients tend to have lower rates of survival than those whose cancer was diagnosed at an earlier stage.
The twice-daily treatment is known as hyperfractionated radiotherapy. By splitting the daily treatment in two portions, a higher and more effective dose can be given to patients.
The researchers hope that this can be achieved without increasing side effects.
Around 600,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer worldwide each year. It can be difficult to treat because the area of the body affected contains so many vital structures, including those responsible for breathing, swallowing and speech, researchers said.
They used a relatively new technique called a network meta-analysis to bring together data from 117 different trials, including 28,804 patients from around the world.
This allowed them to compare 16 different treatments to find out which was best at reducing the spread of cancer and deaths from the disease.
They discovered that the twice-daily treatment, when combined with chemotherapy, cut deaths by 20 per cent compared to the best standard treatment of once-daily radiotherapy with chemotherapy. It also reduced the risk of the cancer getting worse by 23 per cent.
"There are a number of new treatments that have shown promise in head and neck cancer trials. This large study has enabled us to compare several of these treatments to see which is best overall in terms of reducing mortality," said Petit.
Petit cautioned that she has not yet studied the side effects experienced by patients, either during treatment or in the longer term, and that more research is needed to examine this and to confirm the results.
"However, this is an important finding for this group of patients who have a higher risk of their cancer recurring following treatment," she said.
"This research provides good evidence for the benefits of treating advanced stage head and neck cancer patients with a combination of twice-daily radiation therapy and chemotherapy, compared to one or even none of these separately," Professor Philip Poortmans from Radboud University Medical Centre in The Netherlands added.