Head & Neck Cancer Research

I. Translational research

Despite advances in chemotherapy and radiation therapies, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma carries a high mortality rate.

Maria J. Worsham, Ph.D., director of research in the Henry Ford Department of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, wants to create a more evidenced-based approach to predicting disease progression and a patient's response to treatment.

worsham lab

Dr. Worsham received a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to identify genes that are common among people with head and neck cancer, and that could be targeted with molecular-based treatment.

To date, Dr. Worsham has gathered more than 1,000 primary head and neck squamous cell carcinoma samples from a diverse patient population. Her laboratory's tissue analysis, cross-referenced with a cancer methylation database (PubMeth), revealed 231 potential genes not previously reported.

Among the active areas of Dr. Worsham's research are the study of:

  • Salivary tumor markers for oral cavity, oropharynx, and laryngeal cancers
  • Molecular modeling diagnosis and prognosis in head and neck cancer
  • The role of gene methylation in thyroid cancers
  • The role of gene methylation in the progression of laryngeal, and oropharyngeal cancers
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV), its role in head and neck cancers and its contribution to treatment outcomes and racial disparities
  • Genetic and epigenetic contribution to step-wise tumorigenesis of head and neck cancer
  • Genetic and epigenetic markers of sinonasal and laryngeal papillomas

II. Clinical trials

At Henry Ford, our patients have access to some of the most advanced treatments for head and neck cancer through clinical trials. In addition to working with various industry sponsors, we participate in national cooperative group trials through the Southwest Oncology Group, Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, American College of Surgeons Oncology Group, and the Clinical Trials Support Unit.

Henry Ford Health System conducts Phase I-IV clinical trials of new therapies, as well as new combinations of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Contact Constance Harkness to see if you qualify for clinical trial enrollment for head and neck cancer.

Some of the clinical research underway in the area of head and neck cancer include studies of:

  • The effect of platinum-based chemotherapy on balance function
  • Chlorhexidine administered preoperatively to decrease postoperative superficial and deep wound infection rates
  • Preoperative nutritional immune enhancing formula and its effect on postoperative outcomes

Outcomes data is tracked in many areas, with the intention on creating evidence-based protocols for certain types of head and neck cancer. These include:

  • Application of a computer-based functional outcomes questionnaire for head and neck cancer patients
  • A multicenter study of swallowing and speech functional outcomes for advanced laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers
  • Intraoperative recurrent laryngeal nerve monitoring and vocal cord postoperative mobility
  • Thyroid and parathyroid surgery outcomes
  • Oral cancers, and predicting local, regional and distant metastatic disease, based on tumor marker immunohistochemistry
  • Racial disparities in head and neck cancer outcomes
  • Transoral robotic surgery outcomes
  • Free-flap tissue transfer outcomes