Immune Response Against Head and Neck Cancer: Biological Mechanisms and Implication on Therapy

Francesco Perri, Franco Ionna, Francesco Longo, Giuseppina Della Vittoria Scarpati, Carmine De Angelis, Alessandro Ottaiano, Gerardo Botti, Francesco Caponigro

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Head and neck carcinoma (HNC) are diseases arising from several tracts of the aerodigestive ways. Most HNC are squamous cell carcinoma (SCCHN). Immunotherapy is a treatment strategy aimed to reinforce the immune system. Several types of immunotherapy are available in the clinical scenario. Checkpoint inhibitors were developed later in SCCHN; nivolumab and pembrolizumab have reached the clinical approval, having both drugs demonstrated to significantly improve the overall survival, if compared with the standard of treatment (according to the results of the CheckMate 141 and KEYNOTE-040 trials). Nevertheless, immunotherapy may fail because of the genetics of SCCHN. In fact, two genetically different types of SCCHN have been discovered, one virus-related (HPV) and the other mutagens-related. They seem to show in clinical trials very different responses to immunotherapy. Given the existence of a number of factors predictive of response to immunotherapy in SCCHN, a future clinical approach may be to characterize the genetic and immunologic feature of SCCHN and to perform a well-tailored immunotherapy. This review will summarize the main immunotherapy strategies available in SCCHN, discussing their real efficacy, highlighting also the ways to improve them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-274
Number of pages13
JournalTranslational Oncology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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