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Progress in head and neck cancer immunotherapy: can tolerance and immune suppression be reversed?

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Department of Otolaryngology, Hillman Cancer Center Research Pavilion, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213, USA.


The incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) is greater than 40,000 cases per year in the United States, and approximately 500,000 cases annually worldwide. Despite significant advances in detection, ablation, and reconstruction, survival has not improved appreciably over the past few decades. Therefore, novel approaches are necessary to provide head and neck oncologists with a more effective armamentarium against this challenging disease. Cancer immunotherapy describes various approaches to expand and activate the immune system to control tumor growth in vivo. So far, immunotherapy appears to have had applicability in conjunction with other therapeutic interventions that treat residual tumor cells after therapy or to reduce the occurrence of second primary tumors. In particular, diseases such as SCCHN are attractive candidates for novel therapeutic approaches, since the standard treatments have not yet successfully controlled this disease with sufficiently high success rates. This article reviews adjuvant immunotherapeutic strategies currently in trials or under development for SCCHN patients, including vaccination or cytokine immunostimulation.

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