Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about oral and oropharyngeal cancers and how to treat them. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about oral and oropharyngeal cancers, ways to prevent them, how to best treat them, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with these diseases. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • New drug therapies. Many new treatments have become available as doctors have learned more about the biology of head and neck cancers. Some of these treatments, including immunotherapy and targeted therapy, are available through clinical trials. As described in Types of Treatment, immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. Therapies being researched include tyrosine kinase inhibitors; antiangiogenic therapy, which prevents the growth of blood vessels needed for tumor growth; immune modulating approaches; and drugs that trigger cancer cell death. These and other treatment approaches are in various stages of research.

  • Radiofrequency thermal ablation (RFA). RFA uses heat to destroy cancer cells. It is a minimally invasive treatment option that may be useful for treating a localized tumor that cannot be removed with surgery.

  • Less intense treatment for HPV-related cancer. Many patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer have an excellent prognosis after treatment. Providing these patients with less intense treatment can reduce long-term side effects without affecting survival. However, research is ongoing in this area and less intensive treatment is only recommended as part of a clinical trial. Learn more about ASCO’s clinical opinion on less intense treatment for HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.

  • Palliative care/supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better methods of reducing the symptoms and side effects of current oral and oropharyngeal cancer treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding oral and oropharyngeal cancers, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

  • To find clinical trials specific to your diagnosis, talk with your doctor or search online clinical trial databases now.

  • Visit the Cancer.Net Blog to review research and coping topics related to head and neck cancers.

  • Listen to podcasts from ASCO experts discussing head and neck cancer research highlights from scientific meetings in 2020 and 2019.

  • Visit the website of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation to find out how to help support cancer research. Please note that this link takes you to a separate ASCO website.

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.