BACKGROUND: Patients with human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma have high survival when treated with radiotherapy plus cisplatin. Whether replacement of cisplatin with cetuximab-an antibody against the epidermal growth factor receptor-can preserve high survival and reduce treatment toxicity is unknown. We investigated whether cetuximab would maintain a high proportion of patient survival and reduce acute and late toxicity.METHODS: RTOG 1016 was a randomised, multicentre, non-inferiority trial at 182 health-care centres in the USA and Canada. Eligibility criteria included histologically confirmed HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinoma; American Joint Committee on Cancer 7th edition clinical categories T1-T2, N2a-N3 M0 or T3-T4, N0-N3 M0; Zubrod performance status 0 or 1; age at least 18 years; and adequate bone marrow, hepatic, and renal function. We randomly assigned patients (1:1) to receive either radiotherapy plus cetuximab or radiotherapy plus cisplatin. Randomisation was balanced by using randomly permuted blocks, and patients were stratified by T category (T1-T2 vs T3-T4), N category (N0-N2a vs N2b-N3), Zubrod performance status (0 vs 1), and tobacco smoking history (=10 pack-years vs >10 pack-years). Patients were assigned to receive either intravenous cetuximab at a loading dose of 400 mg/m2 5-7 days before radiotherapy initiation, followed by cetuximab 250 mg/m2 weekly for seven doses (total 2150 mg/m2), or cisplatin 100 mg/m2 on days 1 and 22 of radiotherapy (total 200 mg/m2). All patients received accelerated intensity-modulated radiotherapy delivered at 70 Gy in 35 fractions over 6 weeks at six fractions per week (with two fractions given on one day, at least 6 h apart). The primary endpoint was overall survival, defined as time from randomisation to death from any cause, with non-inferiority margin 1·45. Primary analysis was based on the modified intention-to-treat approach, whereby all patients meeting eligibility criteria are included. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01302834.FINDINGS: Between June 9, 2011, and July 31, 2014, 987 patients were enrolled, of whom 849 were randomly assigned to receive radiotherapy plus cetuximab (n=425) or radiotherapy plus cisplatin (n=424). 399 patients assigned to receive cetuximab and 406 patients assigned to receive cisplatin were subsequently eligible. After median follow-up duration of 4·5 years, radiotherapy plus cetuximab did not meet the non-inferiority criteria for overall survival (hazard ratio [HR] 1·45, one-sided 95% upper CI 1·94; p=0·5056 for non-inferiority; one-sided log-rank p=0·0163). Estimated 5-year overall survival was 77·9% (95% CI 73·4-82·5) in the cetuximab group versus 84·6% (80·6-88·6) in the cisplatin group. Progression-free survival was significantly lower in the cetuximab group compared with the cisplatin group (HR 1·72, 95% CI 1·29-2·29; p=0·0002; 5-year progression-free survival 67·3%, 95% CI 62·4-72·2 vs 78·4%, 73·8-83·0), and locoregional failure was significantly higher in the cetuximab group compared with the cisplatin group (HR 2·05, 95% CI 1·35-3·10; 5-year proportions 17·3%, 95% CI 13·7-21·4 vs 9·9%, 6·9-13·6). Proportions of acute moderate to severe toxicity (77·4%, 95% CI 73·0-81·5 vs 81·7%, 77·5-85·3; p=0·1586) and late moderate to severe toxicity (16·5%, 95% CI 12·9-20·7 vs 20·4%, 16·4-24·8; p=0·1904) were similar between the cetuximab and cisplatin groups.INTERPRETATION: For patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinoma, radiotherapy plus cetuximab showed inferior overall survival and progression-free survival compared with radiotherapy plus cisplatin. Radiotherapy plus cisplatin is the standard of care for eligible patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinoma.FUNDING: National Cancer Institute USA, Eli Lilly, and The Oral Cancer Foundation.
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