Prophylactic antibiotics reduce hospitalisations and cost in locally advanced head and neck cancer patients treated with chemoradiotherapy: A randomised phase 2 study

Janneke C. Ham, Chantal M. Driessen, Mathijs P. Hendriks, Edward Fiets, Bas Kreike, Ann Hoeben, Marije Slingerland, Claudia C. van Opstal, Bart Jan Kullberg, Marianne A. Jonker, Eddy M. Adang, Johannes H. Kaanders, Winette T. van der Graaf, Carla M. van Herpen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Platinum-based chemoradiotherapy for locally advanced head and neck cancer (LAHNC) induces a high rate of acute toxicity, including dysphagia and aspiration pneumonia. We hypothesised that prophylactic antibiotics can prevent pneumonia and hospitalisations and can be cost-effective.

Patient and methods: In this multicentre randomised trial, patients with LAHNC treated with chemoradiotherapy received prophylactic amoxicillin/clavulanic acid from day 29 after the start of treatment until 14 days after completion of chemoradiotherapy or standard care without prophylaxis. The primary objective was to observe a reduction in pneumonias. Secondary objectives were to evaluate the hospitalisation rate, adverse events, costs and health-related quality of life.

Results: One hundred six patients were included; of which, 95 were randomised: 48 patients were allocated to the standard group and 47 patients to the prophylaxis group. A pneumonia during chemoradiotherapy and follow-up until 3.5 months was observed in 22 (45.8%) of 48 patients in the standard group and in 22 (46.8%) of 47 patients in the prophylaxis group (p = 0.54). Hospitalisation rate was significantly higher in the standard group versus the prophylaxis group, 19 of 48 pts (39.6%) versus 9 of 47 pts (19.1%), respectively (p = 0.03). Significantly more episodes with fever of any grade were observed in the standard group (29.2% vs 10.2%, p = 0.028). A significant difference in costs was found, with an average reduction of (sic)1425 per patient in favour of the prophylaxis group.

Conclusion: Although prophylactic antibiotics during chemoradiotherapy for patients with LAHNC did not reduce the incidence of pneumonias, it did reduce hospitalisation rates and episodes with fever significantly and consequently tended to be cost-effective. (C) 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-40
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Head and neck cancer
  • Chemoradiotherapy
  • Pneumonia
  • Hospitalisation
  • Prophylactic antibiotics

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