Adding the Sanofi-Aventis cancer drug Taxotere to standard chemotherapy helps people with head and neck cancer live more than three years longer, two teams of researchers reported Wednesday.
The inclusion of Taxotere also did not worsen side effects, the researchers, whose studies were sponsored by the company, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Here you see the first improvement in head and neck cancer treatment in almost 25 years, and it's basically the addition of this drug Taxotere," said Marshall Posner of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, leader of one of the studies.
"And this isn't some small 5% improvement. There was a 30% reduction in mortality. This was pretty impressive."
Any increase would be welcome for people who suffer tumors in the mouth, larynx and pharynx, which make up about 5% of newly diagnosed adult cancers in the United States and 8% worldwide.
Fewer than half of such patients are alive after three years, and in some instances the survival rate is even lower. About 11,000 people in the United States die from head and neck cancer each year, with 46,000 new cases reported annually, according to the American Cancer Society.