Treating Head and Neck Cancer in 2015

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Although advances have been made in the treatment of head and neck cancer, this disease remains persistently problematic. To bring readers up to speed on the latest developments in head and neck cancer, The ASCO Post spoke with a leading researcher in the field, Robert I. Haddad, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

Over the course of your career, what are the biggest advances you’ve seen in head and neck cancer?

The major advances in this disease have been the development of newer technologies, such as how we deliver radiation therapy, whether by intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) or proton-beam therapy.

In addition, we now have the ability to perform major resections and simultaneously do reconstruction work, allowing our patients to maintain speech and swallowing functions along with other improvements in quality-of-life issues that were previously compromised by the routine use of more invasive surgery.

Are there any data suggesting a difference in benefit between IMRT and proton-beam therapy?

This is an important area that is being looked at in active research. However, for the vast majority of head and neck cancer patients, IMRT should still be standard of care. IMRT produces a significant improvement in outcomes over traditional radiation therapy because of the ability to spare saliva and prevent dry mouth over the course of recovery.

Is there a role for robotic surgery in head and neck cancer?

Definitely. In fact, the availability of robotic surgery now allows the surgeon to remove the tumor in the oropharynx wi...