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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.