In the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh, physicians treat patients with cancer of the head and neck. This type of cancer can develop in the mouth, throat, or voice box, affecting more than 50,000 people in the United States each year.  Cancer of the head and neck, a truly terrible and life-altering disease,  can be attributed to environmental causes, such as tobacco use, or infections of the mouth caused by the proliferation of human papillomavirus (HPV).

The Department of Otolaryngology intends to not only treat cancers of the head and neck aggressively, but to also understand why one's immune system failed to reject this particular tumor.  We will strive to answer why your immune system was weakened, what weakened it, and how we can turn it back on to work for you.  These answers, many times, lie in the unique genetic makeup of each person.  Identifying what genetic properties that someone has and the genetic properties of one's tumor can lead to a personalized approach in determining the optimal course of treatment.  The more we learn about one's genetic pedigree, and what mutations exist, the more options present themselves for a unique and specialized treatment.

Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Head and Neck Cancer Research

Thanks to a very generous donation from Steven and Marian Mosites, the Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Head and Neck Cancer Research was established at the Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh.  Spearheading this Mosites Initiative, Robert Ferris, MD, PhD, Director of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Division Chief of Head and Neck Surgery within the Department of Otolaryngology, is now screening adults with HPV, a leading cause of head and neck cancer, by taking samples and studying how drugs that are already FDA approved can be used to change the way that HPV cells in humans with different genetic profiles proliferate as non-cancerous conditions.  With enhanced screening opportunities in personalized medicine, the perceived inevitability of an invasive surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiation is becoming less and less common.  Once specific goal of these personalized forms of therapies is the reduction of toxic substances and lowered appearance of negative side effects that often come hand in hand with these traditional treatments.  This approach has already proven to be effective in clinical trials, and, as enhanced screening practices are adopted, the world will see truly groundbreaking new options for curing cancers of the head and neck.

With the help from the Mosites Family, as well as other Eye & Ear Foundation donors, we are initiating research to provide more effective treatments with less side effects, and ultimately, better outcomes for patients.

HPV Initiative

The Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation are collaborating on a community-wide HPV Vaccination Initiative to increase uptake of one of the few vaccines in the world proven to prevent cancer.  The initiative is mobilizing healthcare providers, parents, young adults, community activists, and policy-makers in the Pittsburgh region to shield boys and girls from the consequences of HPV.

Each year, an estimated 11,000 Americans are diagnosed with oropharyngeal (throat) cancers that are associated with HPV infection.  There is a safe and effective vaccine to prevent these cancers.  The vaccine is covered by insurance or the Federal Vaccines for Children Program and is approved for boys and girls ages 9-26, yet, the vast majority of children in the Pittsburgh region remain unprotected.

The rising incidence of HPV-related oral cancer is a particularly alarming issue for families and communities.  By 2020, HPV-related oral cancer is projected to surpass cervical cancer (12,000 cases per year) as the most common type of HPV-related cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The City of Pittsburgh, recognizing the need to increase awareness of HPV-related oral cancer and developing a strategy to promote the importance of vaccination in the city, declared May 3rd, HPV-Related Oral Cancer Awareness Day!  This proclamation was co-sponsored by Council members Dan Gilman and Corey O'Connor.

To learn more about the HPV Vaccination Initiative, please visit

Personalized Medicine printable information

UPMC Video on Head and Neck Cancer