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Chemotherapy may save voice box

Patients with cancer of the larynx have always faced a Hobson's choice: Lose your voice or, without doubt, lose your life. Now, a research team that includes a professor of surgery at the University of South Florida has found that the choice isn't really necessary. Survival is just as good when the patient undergoes chemotherapy and radiation as when the larynx, or voice box, is removed, according to the study in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

"We have already begun to use this less-invasive approach. It will be the standard of care of the 1990's," said Dr. James N. Endicott of USF. "It saves patients a great deal of psychological and physical trauma."

Patients at the James A. Haley Veterans Affairs' Medical Center in Tampa were among the 300 study participants around the country.

After following patients for an average of three years, the doctors found that the two-year survival rate was 68 percent whether patients received surgery or chemotherapy with radiation treatments.

The standard treatment calls for removing the voice box, which leaves a permanent hole in the neck. Patients also have problems swallowing after the surgery. The combination of anti-cancer drugs and radiation was designed to eliminate those problems.