What lies ahead for OHNC treatment

R. Bryan Bell, M.D., D.D.S., FACS
Medical director, Providence Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Program
Providence Cancer Center

Published May 2013

Because oral, head and neck cancer affects so many critical functions, its treatment is profoundly multidisciplinary. Providence Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Program was created in 2009 to improve patient care by coordinating multidisciplinary diagnosis and treatment.

With advanced surgical techniques – including transoral robotic surgery – in addition to radiation therapy and chemotherapy, we’re providing better functional outcomes and quality of life for our patients with oral, head and neck cancers.

Despite these advances, only half of the 50,000 people in the United States diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancer this year will be alive in five years. Further, the median overall survival rate for recurrent or metastatic oral squamous cell carcinoma remains less than 12 months, which has not changed over the last decade.

This sobering reality has renewed scientific and medical interest in novel therapies, such as specialized tumor vaccines to boost the immune system's response to fight cancer. Thus the future of oral, head and neck cancer treatment may be found in the laboratory. We’re collaborating with translational scientists from the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at Providence Cancer Center to develop novel therapeutic agents and bring them those agents to clinical trial.

This important research includes:

  • Validating biomarkers that predict biological behavior so therapy can be precisely tailored (known as precision therapy)
  • Defining the tumor microenvironment and developing new targeted agents that modulate the immune system’s response to cancer
  • Developing and validating tumor-derived cancer vaccines that may stimulate the immune system and lead to novel treatments such as adaptive therapy

Providence recently was awarded a $492,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study biomarkers of oral cancer metastasis. We also received $75,000 from the Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation to help develop a therapeutic vaccine for oral cancer.

The recent opening of Providence Oral Head and Neck Cancer Clinic marks a crucial step forward in collaborative medicine. It brings surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, dentists, scientists, nurses, speech pathologists and social workers together under one roof to provide optimal care in a patient-centered experience, while searching for a cure to this complex, unpredictable disease.

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