December 1st 2004
The treatment of head and neck cancer has been at the forefront ofnovel therapeutic paradigms. The introduction of drugs that interactwith selective biologic pathways in the cancer cell has generated considerableattention recently. A wide variety of new compounds that attemptto target growth-signaling pathways have been introduced intothe clinic. A majority of studies in the clinic have focused on epidermalgrowth factor receptor (EGFR) antagonists, but future studies will likelybuild upon or complement this strategy with agents that target angiogenicor cell-cycle pathways. EGFR activation promotes a multitude ofimportant signaling pathways associated with cancer development andprogression, and importantly, resistance to radiation. Since radiationtherapy plays an integral role in managing head and neck squamouscell cancer (HNSCC), inhibiting the EGFR pathway might improveour efforts at cancer cure. The challenge now is to understand whenthe application of these EGFR inhibitors is relevant to an individualpatient and how or when these drugs should be combined with radiationor chemotherapy. Are there molecular markers available to determinewho will respond to EGFR inhibitors and who should be treatedwith alternative approaches? What are the mechanisms behind intrinsicor acquired resistance to targeted agents, and how do we preventthis problem? We need to formulate integrated laboratory/clinicalresearch programs that address these important issues.