Immunobiology and immunotherapy of head and neck cancer

Curr Oncol Rep. 2001 Jan;3(1):46-55. doi: 10.1007/s11912-001-0042-3.


The development of head and neck cancer (HNC) is strongly influenced by the host immune system. Immunoselection of tumors resistant to immune attack and the ability of established tumors to disarm or eliminate immune cells favor tumor progression. Recent evidence for local as well as systemic apoptosis of T lymphocytes, the paucity of dendritic cells (DC) at the tumor site, or the presence of signaling defects in T lymphocytes of patients with HNC emphasizes the fact that their antitumor responses are compromised. The clinical and biologic importance of these immune biomarkers is revealed by the finding that they appear to independently predict 5-year survival in patients with oral carcinoma. Whereas the mechanisms responsible for immune dysfunction in HNC are being investigated, new immunotherapeutic strategies, including antitumor vaccines and DC-based interventions, aim at the restoration of tumor-targeted immune responses. These novel biologic therapies, alone or in combination with conventional therapies, might be expected to protect immune cells from dysfunction or death and to enhance their antitumor activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy*
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / immunology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Analysis
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Escape / immunology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Cancer Vaccines