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Molecularly targeted therapy for the treatment of head and neck cancer: a review of the ErbB family inhibitors

Authors Sacco AG, Worden F

Received 4 August 2015

Accepted for publication 20 November 2015

Published 4 April 2016 Volume 2016:9 Pages 1927—1943


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Manfred Beleut

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Faris Farassati

Assuntina G Sacco,1 Francis P Worden2

1Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of California at San Diego Moores Cancer Center, La Jolla, CA, USA; 2Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Abstract: The majority of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) present with locally advanced disease, which requires site-specific combinations of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Despite aggressive therapy, survival outcomes remain poor, and treatment-related morbidity is not negligible. For patients with recurrent or metastatic disease, therapeutic options are further limited and prognosis is dismal. With this in mind, molecularly targeted therapy provides a promising approach to optimizing treatment efficacy while minimizing associated toxicity. The ErbB family of receptors (ie, epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR], ErbB2/human epidermal growth factor receptor [HER]-2, ErbB3/HER3, and ErbB4/HER4) is known to contribute to oncogenic processes, such as cellular proliferation and survival. EGFR, specifically, is upregulated in more than 90% of HNSCC, has been implicated in radiation resistance, and correlates with poorer clinical outcomes. The central role of EGFR in the pathogenesis of HNSCC suggests that inhibition of this pathway represents an attractive treatment strategy. As a result, EGFR inhibition has been extensively studied, with the emergence of two classes of drug therapy: monoclonal antibodies and tyrosine kinase inhibitors. While the monoclonal antibody cetuximab is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration–approved EGFR inhibitor for the treatment of HNSCC, numerous investigational drugs are being evaluated in clinical trials. This paper will review the role of the ErbB family in the pathogenesis of HNSCC, as well as the evidence-based data for the use of ErbB family inhibition in clinical practice.

Keywords: head and neck cancer, epidermal growth factor receptor, monoclonal antibody, tyrosine kinase inhibitor

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