Introduction: Head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) is the sixth most common cancer in the world. Almost 2/3rds of patients have recurrent or metastatic (R/M) HNSCC. Treatment options for R/M HNSCC have evolved, with relatively little change in survival. Thus, it is imperative that management decisions must balance efficacy with toxicity and emphasize the importance of maintaining the patient's quality of life (QOL). Areas covered: We cover the various chemotherapeutic options available for R/M HNSCC including single agent chemotherapy, platinum-based doublets and triplet options. The role of cetuximab, immunotherapy and oral metronomic chemotherapy (OMCT) is also reviewed. We discuss the management of patients with platinum-refractory disease. Expert opinion: In all patients with R/M HNSCC, we recommend assessment of extent of disease, patient symptomatology, performance status, affordability and availability of logistic and social support. In patients with PD-L1 CPS =/> 20, pembrolizumab is an option. In patients with PD-L1 CPS < 20, pembrolizumab/cisplatin/5FU or cisplatin/5FU/cetuximab (EXTREME) may be considered based on affordability and availability. Options available that have a lower toxicity and can help to maintain the patient's QOL include; single agent chemotherapy, carboplatin/paclitaxel combination chemotherapy, sequential combination chemotherapy followed by cetuximab, replacing 5FU with docetaxel (TPEx regime) and OMCT.
PURPOSE: Platinum-resistant oral cancer has a dismal outcome with limited treatment options. We conducted a phase I/II study to identify the optimal biologic dose (OBD) of methotrexate when given along with erlotinib and celecoxib and to assess the efficacy of this three-drug regimen in advanced oral cancer.
METHODS: Patients with platinum-resistant or early-failure squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity were eligible for this study. They were orally administered erlotinib 150 mg once per day, celecoxib 200 mg twice per day, and methotrexate per week. The primary end point of phase I was to determine the OBD of methotrexate, and that of phase II was to determine the 3-month progression-free survival. The OBD of methotrexate was determined on the basis of the clinical benefit rate at 2 months and circulating endothelial cell level at day 8, using a de-escalation model. Pharmacokinetic evaluation was performed during phase I. Phase II consisted of an expansion cohort of 76 patients.
RESULTS: Fifteen patients were recruited in phase I, and 9 mg/m2 methotrexate was identified as the OBD. A total of 91 patients were recruited, and the median follow-up was 6.8 months (range, 0 to 16.8 months). The 3-month progression-free survival rate was 71.1% (95% CI, 60.5% to 79.3%), the 6-month overall survival rate was 61.2% (95% CI, 49.2% to 67.8%), and the response rate was 42.9% (95% CI, 33.2% to 53.1%; n = 39). The mean Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Head and Neck Trial Outcome Index score at day 8 was improved by 6.1 units (standard deviation, 13.6 units) and was maintained around this magnitude (P = .001).
CONCLUSION: Triple oral metronomic chemotherapy with erlotinib, methotrexate, and celecoxib is efficacious in platinum-refractory oral cavity cancers and represents a new therapeutic option in patients with poor prognosis.