BACKGROUND: We compared concomitant cisplatin and irradiation with radiotherapy alone as adjuvant treatment for stage III or IV head and neck cancer. METHODS: After undergoing surgery with curative intent, 167 patients were randomly assigned to receive radiotherapy alone (66 Gy over a period of 6 1/2 weeks) and 167 to receive the same radiotherapy regimen combined with 100 mg of cisplatin per square meter of body-surface area on days 1, 22, and 43 of the radiotherapy regimen. RESULTS: After a median follow-up of 60 months, the rate of progression-free survival was significantly higher in the combined-therapy group than in the group given radiotherapy alone (P=0.04 by the log-rank test; hazard ratio for disease progression, 0.75; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.56 to 0.99), with 5-year Kaplan-Meier estimates of progression-free survival of 47 percent and 36 percent, respectively. The overall survival rate was also significantly higher in the combined-therapy group than in the radiotherapy group (P=0.02 by the log-rank test; hazard ratio for death, 0.70; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.52 to 0.95), with five-year Kaplan-Meier estimates of overall survival of 53 percent and 40 percent, respectively. The cumulative incidence of local or regional relapses was significantly lower in the combined-therapy group (P=0.007). The estimated five-year cumulative incidence of local or regional relapses (considering death from other causes as a competing risk) was 31 percent after radiotherapy and 18 percent after combined therapy. Severe (grade 3 or higher) adverse effects were more frequent after combined therapy (41 percent) than after radiotherapy (21 percent, P=0.001); the types of severe mucosal adverse effects were similar in the two groups, as was the incidence of late adverse effects. CONCLUSIONS: Postoperative concurrent administration of high-dose cisplatin with radiotherapy is more efficacious than radiotherapy alone in patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer and does not cause an undue number of late complications.
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