Join Clinical Trials for Head and Neck Cancers
In general, the phrase “head and neck cancers” is used to collectively describe any cancer that arises in the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, salivary glands, throat, or larynx (voice box). These tumors will collectively affect over 52,000 individuals in the United States in 2012.
With the exception of salivary gland tumors, tobacco and alcohol use are the greatest risk factors for developing any of these cancers. In addition, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a prominent risk factor for many tumors that arise at the base of the tongue or in the tonsils.
What Will Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Trials Be Like?
Clinical trials for head and neck cancer may involve many common tests and procedures; however, the ultimate design of the particular study will determine which specific procedures you will undergo. Examples of specific tests and procedures that may be used in a clinical trial for head and neck cancer include the following:
- Physical exam and detailed history of tobacco and alcohol use.
- Blood and/or tissue sample to test for the presence of HPV infection.
- Blood and/or tissue sample for the purposes of conducting genetic testing.
- If the study is evaluating a new type of medication or vaccine, blood and/or urine tests may be performed to monitor how your body metabolizes the medication or how effectively your body has responded to the vaccine.
- Rhinoscopy, which is a procedure that involves using a thin tube with a tiny lighted camera to examine the inside of the nose.
- Nasopharyngoscopy is similar to a rhinoscopy; however it is used to also visualize the tonsils and throat.
- Imaging procedures such as computed tomography (CT scan, or “CAT scan”) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. These imaging procedures are non-invasive and provide detailed pictures of areas inside your body. Conventional x-rays may also be used.
- Quality of life assessments to evaluate how your cancer is impacting your ability to perform activities of daily living.
- Pain assessments
- Dietary assessments
Typical Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Trial Protocol:
Research related to head and neck cancer has recently focused on a number of topics, including the relationship between patients’ HPV status and their response to certain chemotherapy drugs, as well as the benefits of using various drug combinations in addition to radiation therapy. Examples of sample clinical trials include the following:
- A clinical trial to determine if patients’ HPV status has an impact on their survival following treatment for their head and neck cancer.
- A clinical trial to determine if a specific chemotherapy drug is more effective at treating advanced head and neck cancer when it is combined with radiation therapy.
- A study designed to find ways to better manage the oral side effects of radiation treatment for head and neck cancer.
- A study designed to evaluate new methods of facial reconstruction following surgery to remove head and neck tumors.
- A long-term clinical trial to determine if specific dietary supplements or medications are effective at reducing the risk of head and neck cancer in high-risk individuals.
A brief word about randomized trials and placebos:
Many clinical trials involve the comparison of an investigational treatment to a “standard” treatment. Some studies determine which therapy a patient receives through a process known as randomization, in which patients are randomly assigned to receive either the investigational treatment or the standard treatment.
On occasion, a trial will investigate the use of a standard treatment plus a new drug compared to standard treatment plus a placebo. Placebos are inactive or “sham” treatments that are identical in appearance to the active treatment but have no therapeutic value.
Placebos are necessary to help determine if adverse effects that occur during the clinical trial are the result of the investigational treatment or due to some other factor. They also allow researchers to measure the effects of the active treatment and observe what would have happened without it.
In rare instances where no standard therapy exists, or when a new drug is being evaluated for the first time in a specific cancer, the investigational treatment might be compared to a placebo alone. In these types of trials, those patients who are randomized to the placebo group do not receive an active treatment.
This is rarely done in cancer clinical trials; however it may occasionally be necessary from a scientific standpoint. Placebo-only trials will only be done when ethically appropriate and when patients have been adequately informed that they may end up receiving the placebo rather than the active treatment.
It is very important to note, however, that no one should ever participate in such a placebo trial when there is a widely available and highly effective standard treatment already in existence for their particular type of cancer and clinical situation.
Trial Eligibility and Medical Information Needed:
The type of clinical trial you may be eligible for often depends on many factors, including your disease stage, treatment history, and a variety of clinical findings. Therefore, it is important to know many details pertaining to your specific diagnosis when searching for clinical trials. Examples of the details you will want to have on hand include:
- The name, location, size, stage, and cell type of your cancer, as well as the locations of any metastases you have. Also know these details for any prior cancer you have had.
- Know your performance status, which estimates how well you perform normal activities of daily living. Examples: Karnofsky Performance Scale (KPS) and the ECOG scale.
- Know your treatment history, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and/or surgery.
- Know your blood cell counts, liver function test results, and kidney function test results.
Suggested Search Terms:
Also, remember that “head and neck” cancer refers collectively to a number of cancer sites; therefore, you may find it easier to refine your search by using the exact site of your tumor (i.e., tonsil cancer, lip cancer, etc.). If doing so narrows your search findings too drastically, try a more general search using the phrase “head and neck cancer.”
Regardless of which tumor site you use, or if you are using the broad term “head and neck cancer,” adding the following terms to your query may provide useful findings: “prevention,” “treatment,” “surgery,” “chemotherapy,” “radiation therapy,” “treatment side effects,” “HPV,” “human papillomavirus,” “nutrition,” and “pain.”
Current Search Term:
“Head and Neck Cancers”
General Clinical Trial Information