BACKGROUNDDocetaxel and irinotecan have single-agent antitumor activity in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). The authors sought to evaluate their combination in the treatment of patients with recurrent or metastatic SCCHN.METHODSEligibility criteria included recurrent or metastatic SCCHN with measurable disease, good performance status, and adequate laboratory parameters. Patients received docetaxel 35 mg/m(2) and irinotecan 60 mg/m(2), intravenously, on Days 1 and 8, every 21 days, until disease progression. The authors assessed UGT1A1 genotype, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in serum, and cyclooxygenase-2 and VEGF in baseline tumor tissue.RESULTSFifty-two patients were analyzable: 20 chemotherapy naive (Group A) and 32 previously treated with 1 chemotherapy regimen (Group B); 73% of patients had distant metastasis, and 60% were paclitaxel-exposed. In Group A, 3 (15%) patients achieved a partial response; in Group B, 1 (3%) patient achieved a partial response. Median progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival were 3.3 and 8.2 months in Group A and 1.9 and 5.0 months in Group B, respectively. Common serious toxicities were diarrhea, fatigue, and anorexia. Patients with high serum VEGF had a median PFS of 2.8 months versus 1.7 months for patients with low VEGF (P = .085).CONCLUSIONSDocetaxel and irinotecan had acceptable toxicities, but efficacy results in unselected patients with recurrent or metastatic SCCHN did not suggest an advantage over docetaxel alone or platinum-based regimens.