Head and Neck Cancer Research and Clinical Trials

Leading-edge research is one of the cornerstones of the care provided by our experts in head, neck and skull base cancers. Today’s clinical trials and research studies give us new, proven treatment approaches offering patients more treatment options and hope.

Clinical Trials for Head and Neck Cancer

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin conduct clinical research trials initiated by Medical College of Wisconsin faculty. Our General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) provides a setting for faculty members to conduct patient-oriented research. It is one of 78 GCRCs in the United States supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Once the principal investigator submits a research protocol to the GCRC for consideration, it is reviewed by the multidisciplinary GCRC Review Committee. It is then also reviewed by the hospital’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).

The clinical trials and protocols that are open at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin change often.

View Current Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Trials

Pharmaceutical Trials

Trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies offer another way for patients to have access to new drug therapies. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin frequently participate in pharmaceutical studies, and that can mean a new chance for a cure for some patients.

Membership in National Consortiums

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin are members of several research consortiums, with unparalleled access to clinical trials, especially when it comes to head, neck and skull base cancers.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has created several small consortiums across the country to help get new drugs and treatments developed and tested more quickly. Promising new drugs go though Phase I trials, the earliest form of clinical trials. In the Phase II network, they’re tested specifically for activity in specific cancers.

We are member of the following groups:

  • Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group — funded primarily by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), this group conducts clinical trials related to many different kinds of cancers, including head, neck and skull base cancers. It is among the country’s largest clinical cancer research organizations. 

  • Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) — RTOG is also primarily funded by NCI and conducts research around the country on various cancers. One of its primary areas of research is head and neck cancer. RTOG includes both clinical and laboratory investigators from more than 260 institutions in the United States and Canada. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin have a strong affiliation with RTOG. In addition to enrolling patients in its clinical trials, several Medical College of Wisconsin faculty have led trials and served in leadership positions for RTOG. 

  • University of Chicago Phase II Consortium — this NCI-funded consortium focuses on developing new experimental drugs. Our membership in this group offers the opportunity for patients who have failed other treatments to be eligible for new drugs.

  • Northwestern University Phase I/Phase II ChemoPrevention Consortium — funded by NCI, this group researches how cancers might be prevented. Chemoprevention refers to the use of drugs, vitamins, or other agents to try to reduce the risk of cancer, or delay its development or recurrence. The consortium looks at new drugs that are thought to be promising in preventing cancer development or cancer progression early on. Membership in this group gives Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin the opportunity to offer new therapies for patients with pre-malignant conditions.

Leading-Edge Research

Leading-edge research is one of the cornerstones of the care provided by our experts in head, neck and skull base cancers. Today’s clinical trials and research studies give us new, proven treatment approaches offering patients more treatment options and hope. 

Radiation Therapy Research

We participated in a study that looked at different combinations and frequencies of doses in delivering radiation therapy. The study’s results showed that adding a “boost” – that is delivering two doses of radiation therapy per day instead of one — in the last few weeks of treatment made a positive difference. Today, a “boost” of radiation towards the end of a patient’s treatment has become a standard approach in some cases.

That same study also included a correlative tissue trial, where tissue from each patient’s tumor was collected during a biopsy. Through that tissue trial, researchers learned more about the epidermal growth factor receptor or EGFR, a protein found on the surface of the tumor that can be a strong predictor of the aggressiveness of the tumor. Those findings then lead to a study of an anti-EGFR drug called cetuximab. This is just one example of how each study adds to the knowledge gained before it.

Currently, Stuart J. Wong, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin medical oncologist, is one of the authors of a study challenging the idea that radiation therapy can be given only once in a patient’s lifetime. The study is looking at whether radiation therapy can be effective in patients who are experiencing a recurrence of their cancer. Research like this helps answer questions about whether a new treatment approach will prolong life without reducing quality of life.

Combination Therapies Research

We’re also involved in ongoing research that examines different dose combinations and sequences of medicines and treatments to determine the most effective approaches. Combination therapies have become the standard, and as medicine advances, we hope to be able to predict how a specific tumor is will respond to a specific drug. The future continues to open up new treatment possibilities for head, neck and skull base cancer patients.

Quality of Life Research

More and more people are surviving head, neck and skull base cancers each year, and research is just beginning to probe the issues that are important to them. More survivors means more people are living with the effects of the cancer and its treatment.

Most head and neck cancer patients are worried about survival when their treatment begins, not potential side effects. Still those side effects can have a lasting impact, and we have conducted research with cancer survivors to help us understand how their lives have been affected.

Long-term or “late effects” are those which develop or continue after treatment. Examples are tightening of scars, persistent loss of movement or sensation, thinning of muscle and lining tissues, persistent mouth dryness and others.

In our own research with head and neck cancer survivors, we learned a great deal about how some late effects impacted their quality of life. We found that even with the most challenging side effects there is hope, and intervention may help. Continuing evaluation by a speech and swallowing therapist can help identify swallowing problems and offer advice for techniques to improve swallowing efficiency. Dental rehabilitation can have a significant impact on quality of life for some patients. And physical therapy and exercise can help address problems with shoulder function.

In the meantime, medical advancements have brought modifications and new treatments, which can lessen some of the long-term problems. At Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, we are focused on reducing the long-term side effects for head and neck cancer patients. Our surgeons are working harder to preserve tissues and restore contours during cancer treatment. Radiation oncologists have developed newer techniques which spare parotid tissue and diminish long-term dryness problems. And, medical oncologists are testing newer drugs and treatments which may have fewer long-term side effects.

Over the past few years, quality of life research has become an important part of every major cancer treatment. It shows us how to help patients living with side effects now, and where to look for improved treatments in the future. It helps us better understand how to provide the best possible cure and healing to all of our patients.

National Head and Neck Cancer Registry (LORHAN)

Called the Longitudinal Oncology Registry of Head and Neck Carcinoma (LORHAN), this national registry helps monitor patterns of care. Medical College of Wisconsin medical oncologist Stuart J. Wong, MD, serves on the advisory board overseeing the development of this new national registry. LORHAN will extend current cancer registries by providing detailed data on treatments delivered to head and neck cancer patients across the country. Through LORHAN, we hope to document outcomes by treatment regimen and further the understanding of the care of head and neck cancer patients.


For head and neck cancer treatment:

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Clinical Cancer Center, Froedtert Hospital 9200 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

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