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The emergence of immunotherapy, in the form of immune checkpoint inhibitors, has irrevocably altered the paradigm of cancer treatment over the past decade. Multiple characteristics of the immune landscape in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma suggest a strong rationale for the use of immunotherapies in this disease. Data from studies with both single-agent immunotherapies and chemotherapy and immunotherapy combinations in patients with incurable, relapsed disease have confirmed the potential for immune checkpoint inhibitors to be translated into settings in which patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma are treated with curative intent. Indeed, a number of single-arm and randomized studies, including trials of immunotherapy with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy, have already been completed or are ongoing. In this review, we present promising data from studies in which immunotherapy has been used in conjunction with curative-intent surgery, both as neoadjuvant/induction treatment and as an adjuvant approach. In addition, we discuss the fact that immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy is, once again, allowing oncologists to revisit the potential role of neoadjuvant chemotherapy as part of definitive treatment regimens for patients with locally advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Finally, we address the increasing interest in exploiting synergistic interactions between radiotherapy and immunotherapy in the context of radical radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy regimens. As a consequence of these new areas of research, we are optimistic that the next decade may see immunotherapy embedded within recommended standard-of-care curative regimens for patients with locally advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.


Pablo Nenclares, Antonio Rullan, Kenric Tam, Lara A Dunn, Maie St John, Kevin J Harrington. Introducing Checkpoint Inhibitors Into the Curative Setting of Head and Neck Cancers: Lessons Learned, Future Considerations. American Society of Clinical Oncology educational book. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Annual Meeting. 2022 Apr;42:1-16

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PMID: 35522916

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