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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 September, 2003, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Intense therapy beats head cancer
Radiotherapy treatment
The patients all received the same amount of radiotherapy
Short, intense courses of radiotherapy are more effective in treating head and neck cancer, scientists have found.

Giving patients six sessions a week instead of five improved the management of their tumours.

In addition, patients with laryngeal cancer were more likely to conserve their voices if they had the faster treatment.

The study of almost 1,500 patients was presented to the European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen.

These findings are unequivocal
Dr Jens Overgaard, Aarhus University
Scientists from the Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, gave patients either five or six sessions per week, administering the same dose overall to each patient.

When patients were examined five years after the treatment, it was found tumours were better controlled in those who had received six treatments per week.

Accelerated radiotherapy was also linked to a small increase in survival rates compared with those given five treatments per week.

Patients were more likely to be ill if they were given the more intensive course of treatment, although they recovered quickly.

'No shades of grey'

Professor Jens Overgaard said: "Although all patients in the accelerated treatment arm did better, some did better than others, and we are currently trying to identify those groups where the benefit is largest. "

But he said there was no doubt about the benefits of the more intensive treatment: "There are no shades of grey.

"These findings are unequivocal - accelerated treatment is definitely better in this cancer, both in terms of disease-specific survival and in quality of life."

Professor Michele Saunders of Cancer Research UK said: "This accelerated radiotherapy protocol is already being used in the UK and will be the subject of a randomised controlled trial to be organised by the National Cancer Research Institute."

The research is published in The Lancet.

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