| April 3, 2001
Penn Cancer Specialists Use Continuous
Taxol Infusion, Plus Radiation to Control Advanced Head
and Neck Cancers
Phase I Study Shows 40-50% Long-term Treatment Success,
PHILADELPHIA, PA - An
interdisciplinary team of specialists from the University
of Pennsylvania Cancer Center's Head and Neck Program
are the first to demonstrate dose tolerance levels and
successful long-term treatment for head and neck cancer
patients by administering the chemotherapy drug, Taxol
-- intravenously and continuously for 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, for seven weeks -- concurrently with
n a Phase I Study of 19 patients who completed the
seven-week trial, nine of them were free of cancer after
three years. That is nearly a 40-50% long-term treatment
success compared to about 20-30% when only radiation
therapy is used.
The large majority of patients with locally advanced
head and neck cancers which include the mouth, tongue,
tonsil, voice box and throat are squamous cell carcinomas.
The challenge is to control these cancers in critical
sites that affect breathing, swallowing and speech.
In advanced cancers, surgery might not even be an option.
David I. Rosenthal, MD, associate director of the Head
and Neck Cancer Program at the University of Pennsylvania's
Cancer Center and head of the Phase I study said, "The
goal of our Phase I study was to determine the maximum
tolerated dose of continuous Taxol infusions with Radiation
therapy. Nobody had ever given Taxol by continuous infusion
like this before; not for this long and not with radiation
therapy. Other studies had indicated that Taxol sensitizes
cancer cells to radiation, improving cancer control.
Another showed that more prolonged exposure to Taxol
at more modest doses may be more important than giving
higher doses less often. That's what provoked us to
try the round-the-clock infusion."
Phase I started by giving the same Taxol dose and same
radiation therapy to three patients. When Taxol was
well tolerated without significant toxicity, then the
next group of three patients were given a higher Taxol
dose. "With continuous Taxol infusions," said Dr. Rosenthal,
"we hope that each day we give the radiation therapy
we kill more of the Taxol-sensitized tumor cells and
hopefully, by the end, all of them. That's something
radiation alone does not always do."
The continuous infusion is given through an I.V. port
placed on the chest wall or upper arm to give the patient
as much arm and hand movement as possible. The infusion
pump is carried in a little case on a strap over the
shoulder or from a belt. Nurses refill the reservoir
as needed. This treatment was primarily designed for
patients who had advanced cancers that weren't operable
because they involved critical structures such as the
skull base or the carotid artery that provides blood
to the brain.
ould not be removed surgically because it involved
the carotid artery and the patient had a paralyzed vocal
cord, a very hoarse voice and significant difficulty
swallowing. "This patient was treated three years ago
on this protocol and now has no evidence of any cancer.
The vocal cord became mobile and now the patient has
a normal voice and is swallowing essentially normally.
He is very happy with the quality of his life. So we
have patients who had very advanced cancers that I wouldn't
dream radiation therapy alone could control, but we've
seen some amazing results by the addition of the seven-week
Dr. Rosenthal started this study before coming to Penn
with Vanderbilt Cancer Center medical oncologist David
P. Carbone. MD, when both were at the University of
Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. The Penn
preliminary Phase I data about dose tolerance levels
of continuous infusion of Paclitaxel concurrent with
radiation therapy in advanced head and neck squamous
carcinomas is described in the March issue of The Journal
of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 19, no. 5 (March) 2001, pages
# # #
About the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center's
Head and Neck Cancer Program Founded ten years ago and
directed by Randal S. Weber, MD, FACS, the University
of Pennsylvania Head and Neck Cancer Program brings
together nationally recognized experts in the development
of new treatments that are designed to cure head and
neck cancer, while preserving a patient's appearance,
and vital functions such as eating, swallowing and speaking.
The Program offers on-going clinical trials, which evaluate
the effectiveness of new therapies and give patients
access to the latest advances in the field. For more
information about survivorship, specific types of cancer,
research advances, cancer treatment, and clinical trials,
visit the Cancer Center's resource on the World Wide
Web at http://www.oncolink.upenn.edu.