New cytotoxic and molecular-targeted therapies of head and neck tumors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose of review: The purpose of this review is to provide an update on novel medical treatments for head and neck cancer. Recent findings: Despite the continuing introduction of new cytotoxic agents, such as antimetabolites (capecitabine, pemetrexed), and topoisomerase I inhibitors, the management of advanced head and neck cancer remains challenging. Epidermal growth factor receptor is an appealing target for novel therapies in head and neck cancer. Several rational approaches have been designed to abrogate epidermal growth factor receptor function, among which the development of small molecules, such as gefitinib or erlotinib, that inhibit tyrosine kinase activity, therefore abrogating the receptor's catalytic activity, autophosphorylation, and its engagement with signal transducers. The development of monoclonal antibodies, such as cetuximab, directed against the receptor's extracellular domain and competing for the binding of receptor ligands is another antireceptor strategy, because it induces epidermal growth factor receptor downregulation from the tumor cell surface. Gefitinib has been evaluated in a phase II study in head and neck cancer, at a dose of 500 mg/day. In this study, a 53% disease control rate was achieved, with a low toxicity. Currently, a phase II study at a dose of 250 mg/day is ongoing. A phase II study of erlotinib in advanced head and neck cancer has provided similar results to those of gefitinib, with a 46% control rate and an acceptable toxicity. Phase I studies of cetuximab have been carried out in advanced head and neck cancer, mainly combining the drug with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Three phase II studies have evaluated the combination of cetuximab with platinum-based chemotherapy in pretreated patients with recurrent/metastatic head and neck cancer, with a control rate ranging from 29 to 66%. A phase III placebo-controlled trial has shown that the addition of cetuximab to cisplatin does not significantly improve median progression-free survival, despite a difference in the response rate between the two arms. Other molecular-targeted approaches in head and neck cancer include farnesyl transferase inhibitors, cell cycle regulators, and gene therapy. Summary: Novel targeted therapies are highly appealing in advanced head and neck cancer, and the most clever way to use them is a matter of intense investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-230
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2004


  • Chemotherapy
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Molecular targeted therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'New cytotoxic and molecular-targeted therapies of head and neck tumors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this