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Head and Neck Cancer

The Department has a lot of active research in the field of head and neck cancer. Research is also being done on maximizing functional outcomes, minimizing the morbidity of surgery using cutting-edge reconstructive techniques to provide an individualized approach for each patient and de-intensified chemoradiotherapy. A randomized trial that showed the importance of surgeon credentialing has led to new studies upon which current clinical trials will be built.

Dr. Kevin Contrera, MD, MPH, focuses on clinical trials and is the principal investigator for several head and neck studies currently enrolling at UPMC. His work explores how cancer treatment can be adapted to personalize individual approaches through neoadjuvant therapy, biomarkers, and targeted medications.

Dr. Robert Ferris is principal investigator of the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant in Head and Neck Cancer at the University of Pittsburgh, along with Dr. Heath Skinner of Radiation Oncology.

Dr. Angela L. Mazul, Ph.D., is a cancer epidemiologist whose research delves into the intricate pathways connecting socioeconomic status and modifiable risk factors to the genomics and etiology of head and neck cancer. She is developing a case-control study with prospective patient follow-up in Western Pennsylvania to uncover factors associated with oral cavity risk, particularly among underrepresented populations. Dr. Mazul's overarching goal is to significantly advance our comprehension of the multifaceted interplay between genetics and social determinants of health, thereby enhancing head and neck cancer care across the cancer continuum.

Dr. Marci Nilsen, PhD, RN, CHPN, FAAN, co-director of the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic, received grants to research what causes radiation-induced fibrosis and its effects. Understanding this will aid the development of tailored interventions to improve patient quality of life and reduce morbidity. Dr. Nilsen has also received a grant to work with community oncology practices to enhance symptom assessment and management during radiation. It is vital that patients, regardless of their geographical location, have access to equitable, high-quality cancer care.