Center for Head and Neck Cancer


Premier Research Program

Since Penn’s discovery of the Philadelphia Chromosome, which revolutionized cancer treatment, we’ve had a history of groundbreaking research.

Our team is focused on finding ways to detect head and neck cancers at the earliest possible level—making it possible to develop therapies using new agents and combination treatments.

We are at the forefront in a number of areas, all of which can make a difference today and in the future.

Making History

  • Penn's Department of Otorhinolaryngology has been in formal existence since 1870, making it one of the oldest departments and residencies in the country. The department is proud of its tradition of excellence in patient care, education and research that has continued to flourish for well over a century.
  • Our researchers have completed two studies -- the most comprehensive and largest to date -- that demonstrate the effective use of the daVinci Surgical Robotic System to perform Trans-Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) which greatly reduces surgical trauma for patients. Our physicians anticipate that the application of the daVinci System to treat mouth and throat cancers will allow for complete tumor removal while helping to preserve voice and swallowing function.
  • Penn researchers led the study accomplishing the largest breakthrough in the treatment of thyroid cancer in thirty years. Patients with thyroid cancer that is resistant to radioactive iodine therapy were found to respond well to sorafenib. The study is the result of an intensive effort at the Abramson Cancer Center to develop effective, personalized therapies for these patients, who previously had few options for treatment.
  • Our Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC) was the first to identify the brain-behavior mechanisms that explain why smokers with a particular genetic profile have a harder time quitting smoking.

Shaping the Future

  • Building on our breakthrough findings in the use of sorafenib for thyroid cancer, additional intensive lab-based efforts are underway to understand the molecular basis of the responses, so that future therapies can be tailored to each patient.
  • Penn otorhinolaryngologists’ research efforts include:
    • Quality of Life following the treatment of head and neck cancer
    • Minimally invasive cranial base surgery
    • The role of PET/CT in management of head and neck cancer
    • Intra-tumoral and lymphatic injectable chemotherapy for head and neck cancer
    • Targeted Gene and Molecular Therapy for Head and Neck Cancer
    • Molecular Based Strategies for Radiation and Chemotherapy Sensitization
    • Image Guided and Minimally Invasive Sinus and Skull Base Surgery:
    • Robotic Head and Neck and Skull Base Surgery
    • Photodynamic therapy of pre-malignant oral cavity lesions
    • Multi-modality treatment of head and neck cancer
  • ACC investigators completed a clinical trial to determine whether incentives play a significant role in smoking cessation studies. The study showed that financial incentives could increase the rate of smoking cessation. This is the first sufficiently powered study to examine the use of incentives, and has spurred further studies on the cost effectiveness of such approaches.
  • Penn’s Tobacco and Environmental Carcinogenesis Program is studying the relationships between environmental exposures and cancer with a focus on prevention of tobacco and asbestos-related cancers including lung cancer, head and neck cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Our Tobacco Use Research Center’s (TTURC) mission is to translate discoveries in basic neuroscience, pharmacology, genetics, and behavioral science to improve treatment for nicotine dependence.

As one of the nation’s largest cancer research centers our investigators benefit each day from collaborations and interactions with over 400 scientists and physicians involved in the Abramson Cancer Center.