Immunotherapy for recurrent/metastatic head and neck cancer

Salvatore Alfieri, Stefano Cavalieri, Lisa Licitra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: In the last decade, after cetuximab (anti-epidermal growth factor receptor), none of the novel investigated compounds has demonstrated benefit in head and neck squamous cell cancers (HNSCC), both in advanced and curative settings. Therefore, prognosis of recurrent/metastatic (R/M) HNSCC patients remains dismal, especially in platinum-refractory cohort. In the last few years, a new important class of drugs has affirmed its role. HNSCC, even if less 'immunogenic' than other malignancies (e.g. melanoma), was field of application of several new immune agents. To date, the most important data regard drugs acting on PD-1 (programmed death-1)/PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand 1) axis that is a crucial checkpoint used by tumor for immune escape. Our purpose is to summarize the results of these PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors, outlining some critical points and few practical suggestions.

RECENT FINDINGS: Nivolumab was recently approved by main regulatory agencies as second-line treatment for platinum-refractory R/M HNSCC. In the same setting, pembrolizumab was approved by FDA. Atezolizumab and durvalumab have already showed similar benefit in phase Ia and II studies, respectively.

SUMMARY: Anti-PD1/PD-L1 agents are new effective therapies in R/M HNSCC. Their combination with conventional/novel compounds, as well as a better selection of responding patients, could lead to improve current results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-156
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Opinion in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal/therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized/therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell/mortality
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms/mortality
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy/methods
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local/mortality
  • Nivolumab
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


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