Background: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a huge burden in India with the majority of patients presenting in advanced unresectable stages. Innovative, low-cost but efficacious regimens that can be easily administered in the outpatient setting are the need of the hour. We envisaged assessing whether a readily available triplet therapy of erlotinib + methotrexate + 5-fluorouracil (EMF) is efficacious in terms of extending life and maintaining the quality of life in such patients.
Patients and methods: This was a single-arm, phase II, investigator-initiated interventional study. Thirty-five platinum-resistant/refractory patients of HNSCC were treated with a combination of erlotinib 150 mg, methotrexate 40 mg/m2 (d1, d8) and 5-fluorouracil 500 mg/m2 (d1, d8) every 28 days till progression or unacceptable toxicities. The primary endpoint was overall response rates (ORRs) at 3 months; additional endpoints were disease control rate (DCR) at 3 months, overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS), safety and patient-reported quality of life.
Results: The ORR and DCR at 3 months were 45.7% and 68.5%, respectively. The PFS was 5 months (95% confidence interval (95% CI): 3.9–6 months) and the OS was 9 months (95% CI: 7.4–10.5 months). The 3- and 6-month PFS rates were 86% ± 6% and 45% ± 9%, respectively, while the OS rates at 3 and 6 months were 91% ± 5% and 68% ± 8%, respectively. Rash, mucositis and fatigue were common adverse events occurring in 23 (65%), 14 (40%) and 9 (25.7%), respectively. The most common grade 3 events seen were rash in 5 (14.2%) and diarrhoea in 2 (5.7%). Clinically significant improvement from baseline was seen in many domains of Quality of Life Core Questionnaire and Quality of Life Head and Neck Module.
Conclusions: The triplet regimen of EMF is a feasible and safe therapeutic option in patients with platinum-resistant/refractory HNSCC. It has demonstrated favourable response rates and improvement in quality of life; however, a randomised phase III study would add more robust value (NCT: CTRI/2020/02/023378).