Oligometastatic Head and Neck Cancer: Challenges and Perspectives

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Aug 11;14(16):3894. doi: 10.3390/cancers14163894.


A minority of patients with metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) present with oligometastatic disease. Oligometastasis not only reflects a disease state, but might also present an opportunity for cure in the metastatic setting. Radical ablation of all oligometastatic sites may confer prolonged survival and possibly achieve cure in some patients. However, substantial debate remains about whether patients with oligometastatic disease could benefit from curative intent therapy or whether aggressive treatments expose some patients to futile toxicity. Optimal selection of patients, carefully balancing the currently known prognostic factors against the risks of toxicity is critical. Emerging evidence suggests that patients with a limited burden of disease, viral-related pharyngeal cancer, metachronous metastasis and lung-only metastasis may benefit most from this approach. Efforts are underway to identify biomarkers that can detect oligometastasis and better select patients who would derive the maximum benefit from an aggressive radical approach. The combination of radiotherapy and immunotherapy promises to enhance the anti-tumoral immune response and help overcome resistance. However, optimization of management algorithms, including patient selection, radiation dose and sequencing, will be critical in upcoming clinical trials. This review summarizes recent knowledge about the characteristics and investigational efforts regarding oligometastasis in HNSCC.

Keywords: distant metastasis; head and neck cancer; oligometastasis; prognosis; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.