Mayo Clinic clinical trials: lower doses of radiation for better long term outcomes

By Pamela Tom | HPVANDME Founder

Radiotherapy for HPV oropharyngeal cancer remains the standard treatment to destroy tumors and cancerous cells. However, radiation to the head and neck area may produce significant side effects: stiff neck, damaged salivary glands, loss of taste, loss of voice, and the inability to eat normal foods that may result in significant weight loss.

What if patients could undergo radiation and experience less toxicity?

Patients diagnosed with HPV-related squamous cell carcinoma in the oropharynx are usually in their 50’s to 70’s. Because HPV throat cancer has an 85-90% positive prognosis, these patients predictably have many more years to live.

Mayo Clinic Clinical Trials

Dr. Daniel Ma, radiation oncologist and research chair at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, conducted Phase II and Phase III clinical trials over the past decade. His goal: to determine if reduced doses of radiation successfully eliminate cancer while preserving the patients’ quality of life. More info.

The Phase III randomized clinical trial found that reducing radiation doses by as much as half is not only successful in destroying cancerous tumors; it helps reduce debilitating side effects. These include requiring a feeding tube and decreasing carotid artery stenosis in the neck.

For example, in the trial, one in three patients who received the standard 70 GY treatment needed a feeding tube. However, only 1.6 percent of those who received the reduced 30 GY radiation required a feeding tube. (Gray or GY is “a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units.”) 

The patients who received the lower dose of radiation also received a lower dose of chemotherapy, called Docetaxel. Chemo intensifies the radiation. Tumor cells are more sensitive to chemo than normal cells. In the trial, eligible patients also must have been able to undergo transoral surgery.


Learn More

Watch our video.

Learn more about whether reduced radiation treatment is an option for you or your patients. 

As a result of the clinical trial, Mayo Clinic has now altered its “standard of care” for eligible HPV-related oropharyngeal patients to a lower dose of radiation combined with chemotherapy.