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Drugs. 2010 Oct 22;70(15):1987-2010. doi: 10.2165/11205010-000000000-00000.

Cetuximab: a review of its use in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

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Adis, a Wolters Kluwer Business, Mairangi Bay, North Shore, Auckland, New Zealand.


Cetuximab (Erbitux®) is a chimeric monoclonal antibody directed against the human epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). EGFR is overexpressed and/or upregulated in most squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN); this overexpression is associated with more aggressive disease and poorer prognosis. In the EU, cetuximab is approved in combination with radiation therapy for the treatment of locally advanced SCCHN and in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy for the treatment of recurrent and/or metastatic SCCHN. In randomized, open-label, multinational, phase III clinical trials, cetuximab plus radiotherapy significantly improved the duration of locoregional control (primary endpoint) compared with radiotherapy alone in patients with locally advanced SCCHN, while cetuximab plus first-line platinum-based chemotherapy significantly improved overall survival (primary endpoint) compared with first-line platinum-based chemotherapy alone in patients with recurrent and/or metastatic SCCHN. The efficacy benefits of cetuximab-based combination therapy were achieved without an adverse impact on patients' health-related quality of life. In addition, cetuximab had an acceptable tolerability profile when added to radiotherapy or platinum-based chemotherapy; in particular, it did not exacerbate the toxicities commonly associated with these other treatment modalities. Cetuximab-related adverse events, which include skin rash, hypomagnesaemia and infusion-related reactions, are mostly mild to moderate in severity and manageable. Thus, cetuximab-based combination therapy is a valuable treatment option in patients with SCCHN. In the setting of locally advanced, unresectable disease, cetuximab plus radiotherapy offers an alternative approach to the current standard of care, namely platinum-based chemotherapy plus radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). Based on informal comparisons, cetuximab plus radiotherapy appears to be at least as effective as chemoradiotherapy and, moreover, less toxic; however, formal comparisons of these regimens are required before their relative efficacy and tolerability can be conclusively determined. In the setting of recurrent and/or metastatic SCCHN, cetuximab plus platinum-based chemotherapy provides a first-line treatment of choice for fit patients in whom palliative chemotherapy is indicated.

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