The tyrosine kinase inhibitor afatinib significantly improved progression-free survival compared to methotrexate in patients with recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck after failure of platinum-based chemotherapy, the results of a phase III trial show.
Presented at the ESMO 2014 Congress in Madrid, the Lux-Head & Neck 1 trial showed that patients who received treatment with 40 mg/day oral afatinib had a 20% reduction in risk of progression or death compared to patients who received methotrexate, with a median progression-free survival of 2.6 months.
"The improvement in progression-free survival was associated with a significant delayed worsening of symptoms (such as pain, swallowing and global health status) versus chemotherapy. Patients treated with afatinib had less pain over time than patients treated with methotrexate. "These are important outcomes for patients with these conditions," notes study author Dr Jean-Pascal Machiels, a medical oncologist at Institut Roi Albert II, Cliniques Universitaires St. Luc, in Brussels, Belgium.
Recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck often has a poor outcome, Machiels explains. "This is a poor prognosis population and a disease that does not get enough attention from the scientific community, because this group of patients often has severe co-morbidities and social problems such as alcoholism and tobacco use."
"Frequently these patients have a relapse in the head and neck area. This location is responsible of many symptoms that are difficult to palliate: pain, breath disorder and swallowing difficulties."
Afatinib is a compound that irreversibly blocks the ErbB family of cell surface receptors, which includes epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), HER3 and HER4. Around 90% of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck overexpress EGFR.