Personalized cancer vaccination in head and neck cancer

Cancer Sci. 2021 Mar;112(3):978-988. doi: 10.1111/cas.14784. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Cancer is characterized by an accumulation of somatic mutations that represent a source of neoantigens for targeting by antigen-specific T cells. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) has a relatively high mutation burden across all cancer types, and cellular immunity to neoantigens likely plays a key role in HNSCC clinical outcomes. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (CPIs) have brought new treatment options and hopes to patients with recurrent and/or metastatic HNSCC. However, many patients do not benefit from CPI therapies, highlighting the need for novel immunotherapy or combinatorial strategies. One such approach is personalized cancer vaccination targeting tumor-associated antigens and tumor-specific antigens, either as single agents or in combination with other therapies. Recent advances in next-generation genomic sequencing technologies and computational algorithms have enabled efficient identification of somatic mutation-derived neoantigens and are anticipated to facilitate the development of cancer vaccine strategies. Here, we review cancer vaccine approaches against HNSCC, including fundamental mechanisms of a cancer vaccine, considerations for selecting appropriate antigens, and combination therapies.

Keywords: cancer vaccine therapy; clinical trial; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; tumor-associated antigen; tumor-specific antigen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use
  • Cancer Vaccines / genetics
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / immunology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Immunogenicity, Vaccine
  • Mutation
  • Precision Medicine / methods*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / genetics
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / immunology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics
  • Vaccines, DNA / immunology
  • Vaccines, DNA / therapeutic use
  • Vaccines, Subunit / genetics
  • Vaccines, Subunit / immunology
  • Vaccines, Subunit / therapeutic use


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Vaccines, DNA
  • Vaccines, Subunit