HPV-related head and neck cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

HPV-related head and neck cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


7 weeks of radiation and 3 months of chemotherapy
– that intense treatment plan has been the standard of care in head and neck cancer for
years. But now research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
is looking into different treatment options based on the understanding that not all head
and neck cancers are the same. “When we use the word head and neck cancer,
we’re lumping everyone together. But, these are very different cancers.” Dr. Robert Haddad says the research is looking
into whether less toxic treatment options are just as effective in head and neck cancer
that’s related to infection with the human papillomavirus – known as H-P-V. “We’re seeing a shift in epidemiology where
the majority of patients we see today in our clinics are younger, they have HPV head and
neck cancer. They’re non-smokers, rarely use alcohol, usually
professionals with younger kids at home.” And Dr. Haddad says these H-P-V-related head
and neck cancer patients have a much better prognosis. “In fact, the cure rate for these patients
is around 90-percent, even with locally advanced disease.” A research trial into Dana-Farber is looking
at de-intensifying the treatment for these patients. If the cancer is H-P-V related the patients
undergo robotic surgery and then depending on the pathology they will either receive
no further treatment but be closely monitored or receive a lower dose radiation treatment. The goal is to maintain or even improve the
high cure rate, while improving quality of life. “There will be less dry mouth, less dental
problems, less scar tissue, less fibrosis, less use of a feeding tube for these patients, significant improvement in quality of life.” Dr. Haddad says this is a long project, following
patients for a period of time to make sure the cancer does not return, and the quality
of life parameters are met. For Dana-Farber News, I’m Victoria Warren.

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