Nivolumab should be standard for head and neck cancer

Treatment with nivolumab improves survival in patients with head and neck squamous-cell carcinoma compared with chemotherapy, study finds.

Histopathology stain of squamous-cell carcinoma

Patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous-cell carcinoma (SCCHN) have a poor prognosis and limited treatment options. 

A team of researchers explored the effect of nivolumab, a monoclonal antibody approved for use in metastatic melanoma and lung cancer, in 361 SCCHN patients whose disease had progressed on platinum-based chemotherapy. 

They found that 36% of patients randomly assigned to nivolumab were alive after one year compared with 17% of patients who received chemotherapy with methotrexate, docetaxel or cetuximab. The median overall survival was 7.5 months and 5.1 months, respectively. 

The researchers, who reported their findings at the American Association for Cancer Research 2016 Annual Meeting (16–20 April 2016)[1]
, say nivolumab is the first immunotherapy to improve survival in SCCHN and should become standard of care for these patients.


[1] Gillison ML, Blumenschein G, Fayette J et al. Nivolumab (nivo) vs investigator’s choice (IC) for recurrent or metastatic (R/M) head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Presented at: American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting; New Orleans, Louisiana; 16–20 April 2016.

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, May 2016, Vol 8, No 5;8(5):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201080

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