Update on head and neck cancer: Current knowledge on epidemiology, risk factors, molecular features and novel therapies

Francesca Pezzuto, Luigi Buonaguro, Francesco Caponigro, Franco Ionna, Noemy Starita, Clorinda Annunziata, Franco M. Buonaguro, Maria Lina Tornesello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tobacco use and alcohol consumption are the main risk factors associated with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) development due to their cytotoxic and mutagenic effects on the exposed epithelia of the upper aerodigestive tract. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPVs), both encoding viral oncoproteins able to interfere with cell cycle control, have been recognized as the etiological agents of nasopharynx carcinoma and a fraction of oropharyngeal carcinoma, respectively. Head and neck SCC is a deadly disease and despite innovative treatments represents a major challenge for patients. Recently, a number of genomic studies have highlighted the molecular heterogeneity of head and neck SCC based on methylation profiles, microRNA expression, mutated genes and new druggable pathways which may represent new targets for cancer-tailored therapies. To date, cetuximab is the only FDA-approved anti-epidermal growth factor receptor therapy for the treatment of head and neck SCC. In addition, a number of monoclonal antibodies targeting AKT, mTOR and PI3K pathways are under evaluation. Several therapeutic vaccines against HPV16 and EBV proteins are also under study. The purpose of this article is to review the epidemiology, pathogenesis and molecular features of head and neck SCC, with an emphasis on new therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-136
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 21 2015


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Human papillomavirus
  • Tumorigenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology
  • Medicine(all)

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