Immunotherapy in head and neck cancer

Mateusz Sikora, Rafał Becht


Immunotherapy is a method for the systemic treatment of malignant neoplasms. It is based on the abolition of the immunosuppressive effect of cancer cells and is meant to mobilize the host’s immune system to actively combat with the disease. The group of cancers which are closely connected with the immune system includes: melanoma, non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), renal cancer, colon cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Currently, cancer immunotherapy involves treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors, therapeutic cancer vaccines, oncolytic virotherapy, and monoclonal antibodies. In the case of HNSCC, the most frequently used method is treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors. An example of an immunological checkpoint is programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1), which may be activated in the process of carcinogenesis to repeal immune surveillance, favouring the development of neoplasm. The function of immune checkpoint inhibitors is based on abolition of the immunosuppressive influence of cancerous cells. Clinical trials show the positive effects of treating HNSCC with immunotherapy in certain patients. In comparison to standard systemic treatment with chemotherapy, immunotherapy rarely causes treatment-related adverse events (TRAEs). Greater survival and treatment response are factors which encourage the further development of immuno-oncology. In this article, we present a review of literature concerning the use of immunotherapy in the treatment of HNSCC.


immunotherapy; head and neck neoplasms; PD-1 receptor; PD-L1 costimulatory protein

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