Controversies in the locoregional management of head and neck cancer

J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2011 Jun 1;9(6):653-62. doi: 10.6004/jnccn.2011.0054.


Head and neck cancer (HNC) is a heterogeneous combination of various sites and types of disease. This manuscript elaborates on 3 important and current issues: the emerging role of human papilloma virus (HPV) in oropharyngeal cancer (OPC), current considerations in systemic therapy for advanced disease, and evolving treatment of the neck. Exogenous carcinogens, most notably tobacco, have classically been implicated in the development of HNC. A large increase in the incidence of OPC has occurred in the past few decades, predominantly in nontobacco users, and is caused by HPV. This disease is unique in many respects and presents an opportunity for novel therapeutic approaches. Because the prognosis for HPV-related HNC is better, regardless of whether surgery or radiation is used as the primary therapy, the reduction of treatment-related morbidity has assumed increasing importance and provides unique opportunities and challenges for de-escalation of therapies. Radiotherapy (RT) and concurrent cisplatin is the most commonly used nonsurgical platform for locally advanced disease. New data suggest that viable alternatives exist to the typical 3 cycles of bolus high-dose cisplatin. The role of RT and concurrent taxanes remains less understood. Similarly, the value of integrating epidermal growth factor inhibition and concurrent chemoradiation is under continuing investigation. The use of PET scanning is changing the traditional use of adjuvant neck dissection after RT or chemoradiation. Recent data support the use of surgery in the presence of a positive posttreatment PET, and observation in the setting of a negative posttreatment scan.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / therapy*