Head and Neck Oncology Program Research

Carol R. Bradford, M.D., co-director
Thomas E. Carey, Ph.D., co-director

The Head and Neck Oncology Program provides advanced diagnostic techniques, management and rehabilitation for patients with cancers of the head and neck. The program works in collaboration with specialists in otolaryngology, radiation oncology, hematology/oncology, speech and language pathology, hospital dentistry and other related fields.

In a nationwide study headed by Gregory T. Wolf, M.D., researchers found that, in patients with advanced laryngeal cancer, radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is as effective as traditional surgical treatment involving removal of the voice box, which causes loss of normal speech, swallowing and sense of smell functions. The finding is changing the standard treatment for this disease and is being extended to other cancers of the head and neck, as well as breast, rectum and bladder cancers. Modern microvascular reconstructive techniques also are being used to minimize the functional and cosmetic disabilities associated with these cancers.

The Program is also committed to understanding the molecular mechanisms of tumor progression, and the genes responsible for drug and radiation resistance that cause our current treatment methods to fail in some patients. Laboratory studies funded by National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research are investigating the genes associated with rapid tumor progression and response to therapy. Utilizing information gleaned from these studies, more effective treatment protocols are being designed for patients with the most deadly tumors and knowledge is being gained to improve the overall response to treatment.

The program was recently awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) Award of $1.7 million per year for five years from the National Cancer Institute and the National Dental and Craniofacial Research Institute to develop new research strategies and to translate new discoveries into the clinic to improve patient survival and quality of life. Novel strategies to starve tumors by inhibiting the blood supply are being modeled in the laboratory using a non-toxic new drug developed at the University of Michigan called Tetrathiomolybdate. The first clinical treatment protocol using this drug for patients with recurrent advanced head and neck cancer was recently opened. Preclinical studies are in progress to test whether the use of inhibitors of the proteins that block cell death in cancer cells could be utilized to overcome chemotherapy resistance in head and neck cancers.

Research Training
Fellowships in Advanced Training in Head and Neck Oncology Surgery