Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A trial comparing Iressa and methotrexate for head and neck cancer (1839IL/0704)
This trial was looking to see whether a drug called gefitinib worked better than methotrexate for squamous cell cancers of the head and neck.
Many head and neck cancers are squamous cell cancers. Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the inside of the mouth, nose, larynx and throat.
Some cancer cells have too many growth factor receptors (called ‘epidermal growth factor receptor’ or EGFR) on their surface. When these receptors are triggered, they activate an
Gefitinib (also known as Iressa or ZD 1839) is a type of drug called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. These drugs stop tyrosine kinase working. Doctors hoped that if gefitinib stopped tyrosine kinase working, it would stop the growth of cancer cells. But they didn’t know how well it would work for head and neck cancer that had come back after treatment.
Head and neck cancer that has come back can be difficult to treat. There is no specific
The aims of this trial were to find out
- How well gefitinib worked for head and neck cancer compared to methotrexate
- Which of the 2 doses of gefitinib was the best to use
- More about the side effects
Summary of results
The researchers found that gefitinib did not work as well as methotrexate for squamous cell cancers of the head or neck that had come back after treatment.
- The trial recruited 486 people
- A third of the people had a low dose of gefitinib
- A third had a higher dose of gefitinib
- A third had methotrexate
In all 3 groups, the cancer responded to the treatment in some people. But the average length of time that people lived after treatment was shorter with either dose of gefitinib than it was for people who had methotrexate.
Fewer than 1 in 5 people who had gefitinib lived for more than a year. This compared with about 1 in 4 people who had methotrexate.
Side effects of gefitinib included a skin rash and diarrhoea. Side effects of methotrexate included a sore mouth and sickness.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (
How to join a clinical trial
Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.
Dr Simon Stewart