Why Choose Us for Head and Neck Cancer Care?

Daniel Haraf, MD Radiation oncologist Daniel J. Haraf, MD, is a nationally recognized authority on the treatment of head and neck cancer.

More Experience with Complex Cases

The University of Chicago Medicine head and neck cancer program is one of the busiest in the country, seeing several hundred patients each year. Our cohesive team of experts has extensive experience treating the entire range of cases, including complex, recurrent cases that have failed treatment, as well as providing better-tolerated, less intensive treatments for improved outcomes and a better quality of life.

Curative Therapy: More Effective, Better Outcomes

We have pioneered several key aspects in the treatment of head and neck cancer, including organ-sparing combined radiation and chemotherapy approaches that can cure locally advanced head and neck cancers in the majority of patients while preserving critical functions such as speech and swallowing. University of Chicago experts initiated a recent study that involved several leading cancer centers around the world that found this combined therapy controls cancer in 79 percent of patients with advanced disease, with approximately 70 percent of patients surviving long term or achieving a cure despite the advanced stage of their disease.

Leaders in Immunotherapy Research

Head and neck cancers effectively evade the body’s first line of defense against cancer (called immune surveillance). Recently, novel drugs – called immunotherapies – have been able to make the tumor visible again to the immune system, unleashing a very powerful anti-tumor response in select patients. Immunotherapy is poised to expand treatment options, while minimizing side effects, for patients with advanced head and neck cancer.

A Center of Excellence for HPV-Associated Head and Neck Cancer

In recent years, cases of head and neck cancer linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) have increased dramatically. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, and is the cause of most cases of oropharynx cancer (cancer of the tonsils and base of the tongue). These tumors are different from traditional head and neck cancers with respect to risk factors and prognosis.

Our team has many years of experience treating patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancer, and is at the forefront of research into how HPV-associated cancers differ in response to treatments, with the goal of tailoring effective therapies to reduce side effects and improve overall quality of life. Examples of outstanding care include more accurate testing, making treatment less intense and therefore better tolerated, and using new approaches that harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

Internationally Recognized Experts

Our treatment team is made up of internationally respected experts from every area of head and neck cancer care and research, including world-class surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists and pathologists. Members of our multidisciplinary team regularly serve on national and international boards to develop guidelines for care, and frequently lead multi-institutional studies of new treatment approaches.

Less Invasive Diagnosis and Treatment

Elizabeth Blair and patient Surgeon Elizabeth Blair, MD, is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer, and conducts research into ways to preserve organ function (such as speech and swallowing) for patients with head and neck malignancies.

We offer minimally invasive techniques to diagnose and treat several types of head and neck cancer. For instance, our doctors offer a less invasive way to check the esophagus for cancer called transnasal esophagoscopy. This procedure can be done in the office setting without general anesthesia.

When surgery is the best option for patients, our surgeons can perform organ-sparing techniques that maximize the chances of functional recovery. In addition, our surgeons have developed innovative surgical approaches that can access difficult to reach areas, (such as the skull base or carotid artery). Restoration of bone and soft tissue in the head and neck is often accomplished with a technique called microvascular free flap reconstruction. These methods help to rebuild tissues in the head and neck such as the jawbone and pharynx. Many times, a patient’s appearance and speech and swallowing functions can be preserved.

When Preventing Cancer Is the Focus

The University of Chicago is home to the Upper Aerodigestive Cancer Risk Clinic, which provides patients with access to ongoing clinical trials to test new ways to detect oral cancer early on.

Research into New Alternatives for Treatment

Our doctors and scientists are committed to advancing treatment of head and neck cancer through research. Currently, researchers are testing the latest targeted therapies such as drugs that react against the cancer’s growth factors and immunotherapies.

Participate in a clinical trial

As recognized experts in this field, our team has led several influential clinical studies. At any given time, our team is actively conducting clinical and basic science research into nearly every aspect of this disease. Currently we're focusing on research in a number of key areas:

  1. Providing less intensive/better tolerated treatment options for patients with tonsil or base of tongue HPV-associated head and neck cancers
  2. Treatments for patients who have failed prior therapy (called salvage treatment)
  3. Increasing cure rates by integrating new drugs with an initial dose of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and potentially prevent it from spreading.
  4. Using the immune system to treat the cancer with fewer side effects. Select patients with very advanced tumors can sometimes achieve long-term survival.
  5. Preventing head and neck cancer recurrence, before it happens.