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Innovation Observatory > Reports > Drugs > Nivolumab in combination with Ipilimumab for Recurrent or Metastatic Head and Neck Cancer – first line

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Nivolumab in combination with Ipilimumab for Recurrent or Metastatic Head and Neck Cancer – first line


Cancer and Palliative Care

January 2018

Head and neck cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the United Kingdom. It refers to many different cancers which affect the head and neck, such as mouth and throat cancer. These cancers usually develop in the squamous cells which line the moist tissues in the head and neck, and are often curable if diagnosed at an early stage. The biggest risk factors include smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. Symptoms may include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, pain in the ear and others. Treatment options for cancer that has spread or reoccurs after initial treatment usually involve chemotherapy or radiotherapy and focus on relieving symptoms and prolonging life rather than curing the cancer.
Nivolumab is a drug that works by improving the activity of T-cells (a type of white blood cells) and thereby increasing the ability of the immune system to kill cancer cells. Ipilimumab is another drug that works in a different way to also increase the activity of T-cells. Both drugs are given by injection into the veins. It is thought these drugs when used together may be more effective than each drug on its own. If licenced, nivolumab in combination with ipilimumab will offer additional treatment option to prolong the lives of people with head and neck cancers.

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