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Head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancers are the sixth most common form of cancer worldwide. Standard treatment consists of a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, followed by extensive surgery in some cases. Despite treatment, the disease will recur or spread in 20% to 55% of patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer. Recurrence leads to symptoms like neck pain and difficulties swallowing or breathing. Radiation therapy is used to help these patients manage the adverse effects, but its effectiveness is limited due to radiation-related toxicities.

Dr. Irene Karam, a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook, and Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of Physical Sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute, are leading the world’s first clinical trial of MRI-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to treat head and neck cancer. During the procedure, ultrasound beams are precisely targeted to the affected areas where they generate heat in a controlled way. Increasing the temperature of the tumour and surrounding tissues is believed to enhance the effectiveness of radiation therapy delivered later.

The pilot study seeks to recruit 10 patients with head and neck cancer to receive MRI-guided HIFU in addition to the standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy regimens. The primary goal is to assess the safety, toxicity and feasibility of focused ultrasound treatments given prior to palliative radiation therapy. The study will also examine changes in tumour tissue following MRI-guided HIFU. For more information, visit the clinicaltrials.gov website: NCT03218475. If you are interested in participating in the trial, then please contact Merrylee McGuffin, clinical coordinator, at 416-480-6104.