UPCI / UPMC CC Press Releases

New Radiotherapy Technique Proven Safe, Less Toxic for Cancer Patients, UPCI Study Finds

PITTSBURGH, June 15, 2009 – A new technique known as stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) is safe for patients with recurrent head and neck cancers and may improve their quality of life, according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). Results of the phase I study were reported today in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.

Each year approximately 500,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck are diagnosed worldwide. While treatment has improved with advances in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, more than half of patients will die from recurrent disease. Treatment options for patients with recurrent disease are limited, and for many, surgery may not be an option, according to principal investigator Dwight E. Heron, MD, director, Radiation Oncology Services, UPMC Cancer Centers.

"Chemotherapy alone can provide this patient population some palliation and pain relief, but it doesn't prolong survival," said Dr. Heron. "A few patients may be able to receive additional radiation treatments, but head and neck cancers, by their very nature, develop in very delicate areas of the body, which provide significant retreatment challenges."

SBRT may offer these patients an alternative, noted Dr. Heron. "At the completion of our study, we found this treatment was tolerated very well. No maximum tolerated dose was reached, and no toxicities occurred that caused us to limit the dosing."

SBRT is a relatively new technique using CyberKnife® technology, which delivers high doses of radiation with more precision than conventional techniques. The vast majority of patients complete treatment within 10 days. In the trial, 31 patients with recurrent, inoperable head and neck cancers were treated over a two-week period. PET-CT also was used to develop an individualized radiation treatment plan for each patient, allowing radiation oncologists to more accurately target the cancer while sparing healthy tissue.

"Ultimately, SBRT offers patients a better quality of life. Instead of having to go through six or seven weeks of treatments that are often associated with significant toxicities, patients can receive treatment over a shorter course and still get the same outcomes compared to the current standard of care," said Dr. Heron.

Study co-authors include Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD, Michalis Karamousiz, MD, Regiane S. Andrade, MD, Erin L. Deeb, BS, Steven Burton, MD, William E. Gooding, MS, Barton F. Branstetter, MD, James M. Mountz, MD, PhD, Jonas T. Johnson, MD, Anthanassios Argiris, MD, Jennifer R. Grandis, MD, Stephen Y. Lai, MD, PhD, all of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

This study was funded by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Founded in 1984, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute became a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in six years. UPCI is the only cancer center in western Pennsylvania with this elite designation, serving the region's population of more than 6 million. Presently, UPCI receives a total of $154 million in research grants and is ranked 10th in NCI funding.

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