Among patients receiving radiation therapy for advanced head and neck cancer, treatment with Ethyol® (amifostine) either three times per week or five times per week reduced patient-reported dry mouth. These results were published in the journal Cancer.
Head and neck cancers originate in the throat, larynx (voice box), pharynx, salivary glands, or oral cavity (lip, mouth, tongue). Most head and neck cancers involve squamous cells, which are cells that line the mouth, throat, or other structures.
Standard treatment for head and neck cancer is largely determined by the stage (extent to which the cancer has spread) and by the specific locations within the head or neck area where the cancer has spread.
For head and neck cancer patients treated with radiation therapy, xerostomia is a potential side effect of treatment. Xerostomia refers to a condition of an abnormally dry mouth. Patients with severe xerostomia have very limited or virtually no saliva production. This results in difficulty eating, speaking, and swallowing. These symptoms make xerostomia is extremely uncomfortable, and patients who suffer from the condition have a drastically reduced quality of life. Xerostomia can last long after treatment is completed.
Over the past 50 years, drugs called radiation protectors have been tested in the laboratory for prevention of radiation damage to normal cells and tissues. In order for such drugs to effectively treat cancer, they must protect only normal cells-not the cancer cells-from radiation. Ethyol is a radiation protector.
In order to explore the effects of Ethyol administered on two different schedules-either three days per week or five days per week during radiation therapy-researchers conducted a phase II clinical trial among 91 with patients with Stage III-IVB head and neck cancer. One third of the patients did not receive Ethyol, one third of the patients received Ethyol three times per week, and one third of the patients received Ethyol five times per week.
- Six months after radiation therapy, grade 2 or worse dry mouth was observed in 74% of patients who did not receive Ethyol, 67% of patients who received Ethyol three times per week, and 52% of patients who received Ethyol five times per week.
- When considering patient-reported symptoms, patients treated with Ethyol (either three times per week or five times per week) reported less dry mouth than patients who were not treated with Ethyol.
- Nausea and vomiting were the most common adverse effects of Ethyol. Twenty-eight percent of patients chose to discontinue use of Ethyol before the end of radiation therapy.
These results suggest that treatment with Ethyol reduces dry mouth among patients undergoing radiation therapy for advanced head and neck cancer.
Reference: Jellema AP, Slotman BJ, Muller MJ et al. Radiotherapy Alone, versus Radiotherapy with Amifostine 3 Times Weekly, versus Radiotherapy with Amifostine 5 Times Weekly. Cancer. 2006;107:544-53.
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