Scientists find less-invasive treatment for certain head and neck cancers

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In a study from the University of Colorado, scientists found a less invasive way to treat a subset of head and neck cancers, which could potentially change the standard of care for patients.

HPV-unrelated head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) typically do not trigger immune responses and have not responded well to immunotherapies.

The current standard of care for these tumors begins with surgery that can require tongue or jaw removal and other facial and oral complications, followed by six weeks of radiation with or without chemotherapy

In a new study, the researchers detail a different approach to treating these tumors, using radiation combined with immunotherapy to invigorate the patient’s immune response and reduce immune exhaustion.

This approach, combined with just one cycle of the drug Durvalumab within a specific pre-operation timeframe primes the immune system to kill most or all of cancer before surgery.

The level of success found in this preoperative marriage of treatments is remarkable.

In the study, the team tested 21 patients. They found the response in the patients to this dual-treatment protocol surpassed our expectations

By combining treatment modalities, they were able to spare their patients’ lymph nodes and prime their immune systems, ultimately resulting in a less morbid treatment regimen.

The team also found a major increase in T-cell infiltration in the tumor and several biomarkers in the blood.

The blood correlates could be detected preoperatively such that it was clear pre-surgery who would respond to the treatment.

All patients went on to receive 4 additional cycles of postoperative Durvalumab, but those who failed the treatment did so despite the adjuvant treatment.

The team says the biggest takeaway from these results is hope for the patients.

The response rates here are truly unparalleled, so they are hopeful that this work will lead to a significantly improved standard of care in how we treat these types of cancers.

The researchers hope to move forward with these results to validate potential biomarkers in a larger, ongoing Phase II trial.

If you care about cancer, please read studies that a low-carb diet could increase overall cancer risk, and vitamin D supplements strongly reduce cancer death.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease and cancer and results showing eating fish is linked to a higher risk of skin cancer.

The study was conducted by Sana Karam et al and published in Nature Cancer.

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