Expanding role of the medical oncologist in the management of head and neck cancer

CA Cancer J Clin. 2008 Jan-Feb;58(1):32-53. doi: 10.3322/CA.2007.0004. Epub 2007 Dec 20.


The multidisciplinary approach to treating squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is complex and evolving. This article aims to review some recent developments in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, in particular the expanding role of chemotherapy in its management. Surgery and radiotherapy have remained the mainstay of therapy. Chemotherapy is increasingly being incorporated into the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Previously, radiotherapy following surgery was the standard approach to the treatment of locoregionally advanced resectable disease. Data from randomized trials have confirmed the benefits of concurrent chemoradiotherapy in the adjuvant setting. Chemoradiotherapy is also the recommended approach for unresectable disease. Induction chemotherapy has been useful in resectable disease where organ preservation is desirable, but this approach was inferior for the goal of larynx preservation, while leading to similar survival when compared with concomitant chemoradiotherapy. There is recent evidence that taxanes added to induction chemotherapy with cisplatin and fluorouracil result in improved survival outcomes. Novel targeted agents, such as epidermal growth factor receptor antagonists, are showing promise in the treatment of patients with both locoregionally advanced and recurrent/metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / therapy
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / etiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / therapy
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Physician's Role
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • ErbB Receptors