Other drug therapies for head and neck cancers
In certain situations, you may be offered another type of drug therapy for head and neck cancer. The options may include targeted therapy and immunotherapy, which work in different ways to chemotherapy. They will usually be combined with other treatments such as radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy targets specific features of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading. Each targeted therapy drug works on a particular feature, and the drug will only be given if the cancer cells have that feature. For some head and neck cancers, a targeted therapy drug called cetuximab is occasionally used when people cannot take the standard chemotherapy drug or the cancer is advanced.
For more on this, see Targeted therapy.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The main type of immunotherapy in Australia uses drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors, which help the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. Nivolumab is a checkpoint inhibitor used to treat some types of advanced head and neck cancer.
For more on this, see Immunotherapy.
Other targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs are being studied in clinical trials. Talk with your doctor about the latest developments and whether a clinical trial would be an option for you.
Video: What are drug therapies?
Watch this short video to learn more about targeted therapy and immunotherapy.
Podcast: Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapy
A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Sophie Beaumont, Head of Dental Oncology, Dental Practitioner, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Bena Brown, Speech Pathologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Senior Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, QLD; Dr Teresa Brown, Assistant Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Ben Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, GenesisCare Rockhampton and Brisbane, QLD; Elaine Cook, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Andrew Foreman, Specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Tony Houey, Consumer; Dr Annette Lim, Medical Oncologist and Clinician Researcher – Head and Neck and Non-melanoma Skin Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne, VIC; Paula Macleod, Head, Neck and Thyroid Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Aoife McGarvey, Physiotherapist and Accredited Lymphoedema Practitioner, Physio Living, Newcastle, NSW; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Teresa Simpson Senior Clinician, Psycho-Oncology Social Work Service, Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW.
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