The promise of immunotherapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

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Squamous cell cancers of the head and neck (HNSCC) comprise a diverse group of malignancies that includes tobacco-related tumors in addition to an increasing number of human papillomavirus-associated cancers. Independently of cause, there is a growing body of evidence supporting that the immune system plays a pivotal role in HNSCC development, as tumor cells evade immunosurveillance by exploiting inhibitory checkpoint pathways that suppress anti-tumor T-cell responses. HNSCC cells have the ability to manipulate the immune system through a variety of different mechanisms, forcing it to promote tumor growth and spread. Over the last decade, discoveries in immunologic research resulted in increased understanding of complex interactions between HNSCC and the host immune system as well as T-cell regulatory mechanisms, promoting the development of a variety of novel immunotherapies. Following the availability of novel immunotherapeutic strategies, the challenge for clinicians is to understand how and in which clinical setting to use these agents in order to provide greater clinical benefit for patients. Combination of immunotherapies with standard treatment approaches also represents an evolving field of research. Herein, we provide a comprehensive review of immune escape mechanisms in HNSCC, as well as current immunotherapy approaches under investigation.

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