Treating head and neck cancer patients with a twice-daily radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy could save more lives, according to new research presented at the European Cancer Congress 2017.

The study, led by Dr Claire Petit, a resident in radiation oncology from Gustave Roussy cancer center in Paris, included patients with tumors in their mouths, throats or voice boxes, that had already begun to spread to neighboring tissue. These patients tend to have lower rates of survival than those whose cancer was diagnosed at an earlier stage.

The twice-daily treatment is known as hyperfractionated radiotherapy. By splitting the daily treatment in two portions, a higher and more effective dose can be given to patients. The researchers hope that this can be achieved without increasing side effects.

Around 600,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer worldwide each year. It can be difficult to treat because the area of the body affected contains so many vital structures, including those responsible for breathing, swallowing and speech.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: This fractionated approach to radiotherapy is very similar in philosophy to how I administer chemotherapy in my office: give lower doses more often, rather than higher doses less often. We feel that there is value in this more frequent administration of lower doses, as this seems to have a positive effect on cancer cell resistance while also reducing the occurrence of side effects. In the case of head and neck cancer, many of which are aggressive and also located in difficult areas, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is ideal. Finding better ways to administer proven and effective treatments such as these is the name of the game when it comes to advancing the practice of oncology.