Head and Neck Cancer

Head and neck cancers are the sixth most common group of cancers in the world. These cancers arise from cells that line the mouth, nose, throat, larynx and, rarely, salivary glands. Major risk factors include tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and infection with human papillomavirus, or HPV. Head and neck cancers are often disfiguring, as the tumors can impede the ability to talk, swallow or even breathe. 

Current treatments present major drawbacks. Depending on the tumor’s location, surgery to remove it can be as disfiguring as the tumor itself. The chemotherapy drug commonly used to treat head and neck cancer has numerous toxic side effects.

Researchers and Patient Treatment

Dr. Shailender Bhatia

Our Head and Neck Cancer Researchers

Our interdisciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat head and neck cancers as well as other cancers and diseases.

Meet Our Faculty
Getty image showing a group of men

Patient Treatment & Care

At Fred Hutch, our interdisciplinary teams work together to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Our aim is to provide patients access to advanced treatment options while getting the best cancer care.

Request An Appointment

Selected Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on various kinds of head and neck cancers.

Salivary Gland Cancer

There are many types of salivary gland cancers. Normal salivary glands are made up of different kinds of cells, and cancers can start in any of these cell types. Salivary gland cancers are named according to which cell types they most look like.

Salivary Gland Clinical Trials

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the mucosal surfaces of the head and neck. Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) develops in the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat.

Squamous Cell Clinical Trials


Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs in the nasopharynx, which is located behind your nose and above the back of your throat. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is rare in the United States. It occurs much more frequently in other parts of the world — specifically Southeast Asia. It is difficult to detect early.

Nasopharyngeal Clinical Trials

Paranasal Sinus Neoplasms

A paranasal sinus tumor is a cancer that has grown inside your sinuses, the open spaces behind your nose. This tumor can begin in the cells of the membranes, bones, or nerves that line the area. You might not know or even suspect that a tumor is growing until it spreads. Cancers of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses are rare.

Paranasal Neoplasms Clinical Trials

See All Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Trials

Head and Neck Cancer Research

From molecular biology to targeted drug therapy, Fred Hutch research into head and neck cancers includes the entire bench-to-bedside spectrum. We are working to improve prevention and treatment and also reduce side effects from treatment.

Pinpointing the Factors Driving Cancer Development

Building on our deep experience in cancer biology, Fred Hutch scientists are investigating the interplay of genetic, viral, environmental and lifestyle factors in both the causes and progression of these cancers. In collaboration with international consortiums, our researchers are conducting population- and hospital-based studies to identify clear risk factors for these cancers and pinpoint tumor biomarkers. Fred Hutch science paved the way for the HPV vaccine. Through our Pathogen-Associated Malignancies Integrated Research Center, we are continuing our groundbreaking investigations into how HPV and other viruses and pathogens trigger head and neck cancers.

Decoding Molecular Profiles

Fred Hutch researchers are pioneering new ways to both diagnose and decipher the genetic makeup of head and neck cancers. Through a painstaking process called functional genomics, we can screen hundreds or thousands of genes to pinpoint those that, when shut off, halt the growth of tumor cells. By pinpointing vulnerabilities in tumors, this work has already led to clinical trials of new approaches for patients and holds the potential to deliver on the promise of precision oncology. 

Developing Targeted Treatments

Our advances in molecular research have paved the way for our efforts to discover and validate novel drugs and treatment tools for patients with head and neck cancers. As we develop and test the next generation of targeted anticancer agents, we’re undertaking clinical trials to determine whether these drugs work better and are safer than current treatments.

Our scientists are also developing tools to determine a patient’s prognosis, which can help doctors choose the best treatment for that specific cancer.

Latest Head and Neck Cancer News

Striving for the summit of Kilimanjaro How 20 biotech leaders — and two Fred Hutch faculty members — are tackling a mountain and cancer at the same time February 10, 2023
Hutch trial will test new app to help teens stop vaping Smoking cessation expert to adapt adult quit-smoking app for kids under 18; pilot trial will test its efficacy in 200 self-consenting teens May 17, 2022
Science Says: Renew, refocus, reduce risk Lowering risk of cancer through the science of prevention February 4, 2022
Hopes and predictions for 2022 Hutch researchers look ahead to an increase in cancer screening, improved vaccines and greater trust in science December 21, 2021