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Research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of these cancers is now being done at many places around the world.

Gene changes

A great deal of research is being done to find out how changes in the DNA of certain genes cause cells to become cancer. Tests to find these changes may allow these cancers to be found early and lead to better ways to treat them.


Researchers have looked at ways to use drugs to keep cancer from starting in the first place. This is called chemoprevention. They also have looked at drugs that might prevent pre-cancerous growths from changing into cancer.

People who have had these cancers are at risk for getting a second tumor in the head and neck area, as well as having the first cancer come back. Different drugs are being studied to see if they can help lower this risk. So far the results have not been successful.


Promising new forms of treatment are being studied. They are likely to be effective and make being treated for these cancers less burdensome in the coming years.


Studies are also going on to find new ways to give drugs (such as direct injection into the blood vessels feeding the tumor) and new ways to combine drugs. Drugs that have been used to treat other types of cancer are being tested, too. Clinical trials are looking for the best ways to combine drugs with radiation treatment.

Targeted therapy

Newer targeted therapy drugs attack certain substances in or around cancer cells that help them grow. These drugs work in a different way from standard chemo drugs. They may work in some cases when chemo drugs don’t, and they often have less severe side effects.

EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) inhibitors: Growth factors are hormone-like substances that attach to receptors and send signals to cells to grow and divide. Having too many receptors is one reason that some cancer cells grow. Several new drugs (known as EGFR inhibitors) have been developed to block the action of EGFR. Cetuximab (Erbitux) is already used to treat cancers of the head and neck, including cancer of larynx and hypopharynx. Other EGFR blockers are under study.

Angiogenesis inhibitors: Tumors need a large blood supply to grow, so they release chemicals that cause new blood vessels to form. Researchers are looking at drugs that turn off these signals. The idea is to limit the blood supply and thus prevent the tumor from growing. These drugs are now under study for the treatment of head and neck cancers.

Photodynamic therapy

In this treatment, the patient is given a substance that makes the cancer cells more sensitive to light, and then the cancer is exposed to laser light a day later. This is being studied as a treatment for very early stage laryngeal cancer.

Last Medical Review: 04/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/17/2016