This trial was conducted in patients with laryngeal cancer – a form of SCC of the head and neck where tumour cells arise from the cells lining the inside of the larynx, which is the part of the throat that contains the vocal cords (the voice box). Previously, this type of cancer was treated either with surgery or radiotherapy**, both of which would frequently lead to patients losing their ability to speak, and thus have a significant impact on their quality of life. Later, chemotherapy*** provided an alternative that could allow preservation of the larynx.
The trial compared these different approaches, and evaluated whether using chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy instead of surgery as initial treatments could be beneficial in a group of patients with hypopharyngeal SCC. The hypopharynx is situated at the bottom of the throat, just behind the larynx. It found that larynx-preserving treatment did not jeopardise overall survival in patients with SCC of the head and neck and allowed more than half of the survivors to retain their ability to speak. This, of course, made a huge difference to their daily lives. The results from this study changed the standard of care and practice for patients with early-stage hypopharyngeal SCC from larynx surgery to larynx-preserving radio-chemotherapy.
**Radiotherapy is a type of local cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiotherapy damages cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how cells grow and divide. Normal cells such as those lining the inside of the mouth may also be affected by these treatments. This slows down the ability of oral tissue to repair itself and increases risk of side effects during treatment.
***Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells that were not visible at the time of surgery, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.