Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, SCCHN, is a heterogeneous group of tumours
not only concerning the site of origin but also regarding aetiology. The 5-year survival for the
whole group of SCCHN tumours has not significantly improved over the last 20-25 years. Apart from
tumour spread to lymph nodes, N status, gains and losses of specific chromosomes are the only factors
shown to be independent prognostic markers for these tumours. Worldwide, an increasing number
of people ≤ 40 years are seen being affected by tongue SCC, the most common tumour within the
SCCHN group. Even without any clinical signs of metastasis, up to 30% of all tongue SCC have histologically
detectable spread to lymph nodes.
In this mini review, field cancerization, tumour microenvironment, the so called EMT (epithelial
mesenchymal transition) process and the role of viruses in development of SCCHN are discussed as
well as potential new therapeutic targets.
For the group of tongue SCC, with the increasing incidence seen in young patients and particularly
women, new data with impact on prognosis and treatment are urgently needed. But as long as data
from the analyses of several sub sites are presented as valid for the whole group of tumours, this vital
point is missed.