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The Head and Neck Cancer Program

head and neck with xray view of neck

The Basics

Groundbreaking Research on Head and Neck Cancer

Breakthrough research by investigators at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2002 identified two distinct subtypes of head and neck cancers, which affect the mouth and throat, with two distinct causes: cigarette smoking and the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Our investigators were the first to prove HPV caused a subset of head and neck cancers.

A Common, Cancer-Causing Virus

large image of cells

Oral human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted viral infection that can infect the back of the mouth or throat. HPV is very common in the U.S. and, in some people, can cause cancers of the head and neck, particularly in the tonsils and the base of the tongue.

HPV-caused head and neck cancers typically afflict non-smokers.

The Potential

HPV-Caused Head and Neck Cancers on the Rise


HPV info graphic

Well-Suited For Immunotherapy

Doctor taking a patient's neck imaging

Head and neck cancers can be difficult to treat. Standard chemotherapy can damage critical anatomy, such as the tongue, vocal cords and salivary glands. Patients risk becoming disfigured and unable to eat or speak.

These concerns and the distinct pathology of both types of head and neck cancer make them ideally suited to immunotherapy. The immune system goes after viruses very efficiently, and smoking causes cancers with many gene mutations in the tumor’s DNA, a good predictor that a cancer will respond to immunotherapy drugs.


Addressing Immunotherapy-Related Toxicities

Dr. Jarushka Naidoo

Released June 18, 2019 Findings published in JNCCN confirm feasibility and necessity for institutional teams to provide rapid referrals for adverse events via an electronic method. 
"We identified which toxicities are most likely to require subspecialty input based on the breakdown of referrals for suspected and subsequently confirmed irAES. We found that the most commonly needed medical specialists were in pulmonary medicine, gastroenterology, endocrinology, and dermatology." -  lead researcher Jarushka Naidoo, MBBCh


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