Immunotherapy kinder than chemotherapy for patients with head and neck cancer

June 23, 2017

The immunotherapy nivolumab is kinder than chemotherapy for people with advanced head and neck cancer - easing many of the negative effects of the disease on patients' quality of life.

Both head and neck cancer and the treatment for it can have a huge impact on patients - affecting their speech, breathing, eating and drinking, facial appearance, and general wellbeing.

All of this can cause substantial psychological, as well as physical, distress.

But patients taking part in a major phase III clinical trial reported that nivolumab helped them maintain a better quality of life for longer.

By contrast, the study -- led by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust -- found that people treated with standard chemotherapies docetaxel, methotrexate or cetuximab reported a decline in quality of life from the start of treatment.

Last year, the clinical trial of 361 patients found that nivolumab -- which sparks the immune system into action against cancers -- greatly increased survival for people with recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer.

But the drug was initially rejected by NICE in April this year and is currently under consultation before a final decision is due.

The new results add to the growing body of evidence that immunotherapy can be a smarter, kinder treatment for people with cancer.

In the latest study, 129 patients on the trial filled in questionnaires about their quality of life - covering physical symptoms, mental health and general wellbeing.

The research is published in the journal The Lancet Oncology today (Friday) and was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb, with support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).

While patients on chemotherapy judged their quality of life to be lower at nine and 15 weeks into the trial, patients on nivolumab gave consistently better ratings throughout.

After nine weeks, patients given nivolumab reported that they were doing better than their counterparts on other treatments for a range of symptoms, including pain, sensory problems, appetite loss, tiredness and breathing problems.

After 15 weeks, the list of beneficial effects was even longer, with patients taking nivolumab being less badly affected by nausea, insomnia and weight loss.

Professor Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

"Head and neck cancer is an extremely debilitating disease, and if it spreads or patients relapse then it's extremely difficult to treat.

"But our research has found that nivolumab really is a game-changing treatment for patients with head and neck cancer. Not only does it extend survival -- we have now shown that patients feel much better in the extra time that the drug grants them.

"When immunotherapies first hit the clinic, there were concerns over side-effects and the fact that they didn't work for everyone. But in only two or three years we have become very good at managing the side-effects they cause, and we are better able to select patients in whom these treatments are most likely to be effective.

"We now need to test if we can move away from resorting to traditional chemotherapies, which come with far too much collateral damage, and see these smarter, kinder therapies used as a first-line treatment to replace chemotherapy altogether."

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

"Creating cancer treatments that can not only extend life but also minimise the impact of the disease on patients' lives is a major aim of researchers worldwide.

"So it's great news that this trial has found that as nivolumab greatly extends life among these patients it also gives marked improvements in quality of life compared with current treatment options.

"I hope that this drug will be now approved very soon for use on the NHS so that this group of patients, who badly need new treatment options, can see the benefit."

Professor David Cunningham, Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

"Using the body's own immune system to attack cancer continues to find wider application across the spectrum of cancers we have to treat in the clinic. Head and neck cancer is a particularly challenging disease and these results are an important step in improving outcomes for our patients."
-end-
For more information please contact Ben Kolb in the ICR press office on 020 7153 5359 or ben.kolb@icr.ac.uk. For enquiries out of hours, please call 07595 963 613.

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world's most influential cancer research organisations.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients' lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and 'bench-to-bedside' approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four centres for cancer research and treatment globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it is a world leader at identifying cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

A college of the University of London, the ICR is the UK's top-ranked academic institution for research quality, and provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR's mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit http://www.icr.ac.uk

Institute of Cancer Research

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.