Head and neck cancers are a complex group of diseases defined by variations in histological features, anatomical location, and cause. Once the realm of surgeons and radiation oncologists, the treatment of locally advanced disease now involves medical oncologists. Major developments include primary chemoradiotherapy for unresectable disease and organ preservation, the addition of chemotherapy to adjuvant radiotherapy, improvement in surgical and radiation techniques, and biological therapies. Concomitant chemoradiotherapy consistently improves locoregional control. However, control of distant metastases is poor, resulting in an increasing proportion of deaths from systemic recurrence. Given this shift in site of recurrence, therapeutic strategies to suppress distant metastases may be the next goal for further improvement of survival. One approach that merits reassessment is the use of induction chemotherapy in the setting of locally advanced disease-both resectable and unresectable. In this review we summarise data for the use of induction chemotherapy to define better which patients will likely benefit from this approach now and which questions are important in the design of future clinical trials.
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