Purpose of review: The aim of this article is to summarize progress in understanding of the biology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and of trials to prevent malignant conversion of oral premalignant lesions and the development of second primary tumors in those already treated for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.
Recent findings: The understanding of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck biology is rapidly evolving. Clinical trials for chemoprevention are involving more diverse regimens, following disappointing results of retinoid monotherapy. In-vitro and animal studies form the rationale for the next generation of studies, employing combination, synergistic treatments.
Summary: Based on trial data to date, no recommendation for intervention with a chemopreventive agent can be made. It is clear, however, that smoking cessation is an effective intervention for preventing oral premalignant lesions and second primary tumors. Promising trials are being conducted and designed currently. The future of this area of study will involve rational choice of multidrug regimens based on current understanding of the biology of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.