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Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a heterogeneous group of malignant tumours that affects over 500,000 patients per year. Treatment failure is generally due to the heterogeneity of these tumours and to the serious adverse effects associated with treatment. Immunological system impairment, which is common in HNSCC, further contributes to treatment failure by mediating tumour escape mechanisms. To date, the only clinically approved targeted therapy agent is cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds to, and inhibits, epidermal growth factor receptor, which is widely overexpressed in HNSCC. Cetuximab has been proven to induce antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity, further magnifying its therapeutic effect. DNA sequencing of HNSCC cells has identified the presence of mutated genes, thus making their protein products potential targets for therapeutic inhibition. Immune mechanisms have been found to have a significant impact on carcinogenesis, thus providing the rationale to support efforts to identify anticancer compounds with immunomodulatory properties. In the context of the rapid development of novel targeted agents, the aim of the present paper is to review our current understanding of HNSCC and to review the novel anticancer agents (mAbs and TKIs) introduced in recent years, including an assessment of their efficacy and mechanisms of action.

Original publication




Journal article


Med Oncol

Publication Date





Head and neck cancer, TKI, Therapy, mAb, Animals, Antibodies, Monoclonal, Carcinoma, Squamous Cell, Head and Neck Neoplasms, Humans, Protein Kinase Inhibitors, Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck