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Roswell Park Experts Share Insights on Diagnosis and Treatment of Head & Neck Cancers at AHNS 2021

Team outlines strategies to improve treatment of oral and thyroid cancers at American Head & Neck Society meeting

  • Team presents 17 studies at International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer
  • Deep look at tumor microenvironment suggests new ways to treat oral cancers
  • 3 Roswell Park presentations focus on thyroid cancer detection and diagnosis

As the international community of experts in head-and-neck cancers gathered virtually last week to share new ideas and treatment strategies at the just-ended American Head & Neck Society (AHNS) 10th International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center teams are presented new research on both the basic science supporting new treatments as well as opportunities to improve the early and accurate diagnosis of thyroid cancer and other head/neck malignancies.

Among the 17 presentations of new research led by Roswell Park’s head/neck cancer experts, representing several disciplines and expertise in both clinical and laboratory research, are three studies that may lead to development of new and more effective drugs and treatments for oral-cavity cancers and another trio of studies focused on improving the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancers.

“This is an exciting time for all of us who are working to improve the care and outcomes of patients with cancers of the head and neck, because we’re able to take advantage not only of improvements in diagnostics and traditional therapies but the incredibly detailed understanding we now have of processes at the molecular level,” says Wesley Hicks Jr., MD, FACS, Chair of Head & Neck/Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Roswell Park. “Our latest work presented at AHNS identifies several opportunities to apply next-generation insights, and we’re proud to help shape these conversations and advance the care of cancer patients everywhere.”

To support their studies in oral cancer, the team applied two distinct approaches to advance the understanding of activity in the microenvironment of oral-cavity tumors:

  • The team used immunohistochemical analyses to (1) characterize a type of regulatory T cell that supports tumor growth and impedes immunotherapy and (2) analyze tumor expression of the NY-ESO-1 antigen in oral cavity dysplasia and carcinoma, showing that presence of this protein increased during tumor development. (Abstract P020 and Abstract P038)
  • For another study, the team examined the role that exosomes — small vesicles secreted by tumor cells — play in interfering with chemotherapy and immunotherapies, demonstrating that they increase in abundance as cancer progresses. (Abstract P031)

In three separate projects addressing thyroid cancer incidence, detection and diagnosis, Roswell Park researchers report that:

  • Core needle biopsy, the diagnostic tool used most frequently in Roswell Park’s head/neck cancer practice, correctly diagnosed thyroid cancer and identified an especially aggressive subtype, tall cell variant (TCV) papillary thyroid carcinoma, more frequently than an alternative diagnostic approach, fine needle aspiration (FNAC). (Abstract P203)
  • TCV papillary thyroid carcinoma has been diagnosed more frequently among patients seen at Roswell Park, compared to national incidence rates, and this aggressive subtype requires close post-treatment surveillance. (Abstract P172)
  • Lectins, naturally occurring proteins present in many plant-based foods, represent a promising biomarker candidate that may be able to help distinguish different subtypes of thyroid cancer to support the most appropriate and personalized treatment strategies for each individual patient. (Abstract P136)

“We’re seeing increasing numbers of aggressive thyroid cancers in our practice at Roswell Park,” says Vishal Gupta, MD, Assistant Professor of Oncology and Otolaryngology in the Department of Head & Neck/Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Roswell Park. “Through this trio of studies, we’re working to quickly identify, characterize and address this apparent trend to help guide treatment and follow-up for patients with especially aggressive or hard-to-diagnose thyroid tumors.”

Many Roswell Park physicians, staff and fellows contributed to this work, including head-and-neck surgeons Dr. Hicks, Dr. Gupta, Jon Michael Chan, MD, Michael R. Markiewicz, DDS, MPH, MD, Ryan McSpadden, MD, Kimberley Wooten, MD, Moni Abraham Kuriakose, MD, and research scientists William Magner, PhD, and S. Lynn Sigurdson, PhD.


An online version of this is available on our website.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or

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