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Laryngorhinootologie. 2006 Mar;85(3):172-8.

[Palliative chemotherapy of head and neck cancer: present status and future development].

[Article in German]

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Abteilung für Hämatologie und Onkoloie, Universitätsklinikum Regensburg.



Patients with head and neck tumors are treated with palliative chemotherapy in case of the detection of distant metastases or local recurrence without the option of surgical therapy or radiation. Alongside 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in combination with cisplatin or carboplatin, taxanes, gemcitabine and vinorelbine as well as monoclonal antibodies or small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors have been used.


This review analyses the published literature of the past 15 years, including selected abstracts with view to response rate, overall survival and adverse effects.


5-FU plus cisplatin or carboplatin can still be considered as standard treatment, achieving response rates of 20-30 %. The addition of taxanes increases the objective response rate but adds remarkable toxicity to the treatment protocol. Phase III studies demonstrate higher response rates but fail to demonstrate a significant increase of the overall survival after polychemotherapy as compared to monotherapy protocols. Thus, patients with a reduced performance can be treated with monotherapy. In case of disease progression after cisplatin-containing chemotherapy further treatment should only be offered to selected patients. For this situation, platin-free chemotherapy protocols containing taxanes, gemcitabine or vinorelbine seem promising. Recent studies with monoclonal antibodies or small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors report on a response rate of 10-20 %.


The use of new drugs increases the response rate and amends the side effects of the chemotherapy. However, phase III studies documenting an improved overall survival are lacking. Targeted therapies broaden the therapeutic armament, and possibly, EGFR inhibition will help to overcome chemotherapy resistance in the future.

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