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Pharmacotherapy of head and neck cancer.

INTRODUCTION: There are over 55,000 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed annually in the United States. Historically surgical resection was the standard of care, but due to vital structures in the head and neck region this led to severe morbidity. The integration of pharmacotherapy has rapidly expanded over the years into a multimodality treatment paradigm for locally advanced head and neck cancer, allowing organ-sparing treatment approaches. Here we discuss the various approaches and settings in which chemotherapy can be incorporated into the management of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

AREAS COVERED: Chemotherapy in HNSCC can be administered in several different treatment circumstances: in the metastatic setting for palliation of symptoms and prolongation of survival, before definitive local treatment (induction), as part of definitive treatment simultaneously with radiation (concurrent) or after definitive local therapy (adjuvant).

EXPERT OPINION: The incorporation of chemotherapy into the management of patients with head and neck cancer has allowed organ preservation approaches and improved survival. Because of the toxicities of chemotherapy, it is imperative that chemotherapy is only administered to the appropriate patient population who are more likely to benefit. Cisplatin 100 mg/m(2) given in combination with radiation in the non-metastatic setting is the most widely tested regimen and remains the reference regimen. Cetuximab is also an alternative, but there is no data to support the use of cetuximab in a laryngeal preservation approach or in the postoperative setting.

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