Predicting the aggressiveness of oral cancers in humans could help tailor appropriate treatment and optimize outcomes, similar to the current approach to other cancer types such as breast cancer. However, to date, no diagnostic test is available that can predict the aggressiveness of oral cancer in humans. But that soon may change.
Results of a recently published study that looked at the genetic expression of oral cancer in mice found that specific types of murine oral cancer are highly relevant to human oral cancer, and that the gene signature associated with tumor spread in mice was similar to the same gene signature found in oral cancer samples in humans who had aggressive metastatic tumors.
The researchers, from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, repeatedly exposed mice to two known carcinogens associated with the development of oral cancer in humans–tobacco and alcohol. As in humans, exposure of these carcinogens resulted in some tumors in mice that did not spread and some that became aggressive and metastasized.
To determine whether these tumors in mice and humans were genetically similar, the researchers compared their mouse sequences with human data from The Cancer Genome Atlas and were able to identify a common genetic signature associated with more aggressive tumors in both the mice and humans.
The researchers applied this finding to develop a proof of concept test in which they showed that using this genetic signature in oral cancer samples from patients treated at their institution they were able to identify aggressive tumors with about 93% accuracy.
According to senior author of the study, Ravindra Uppaluri, MD, PhD, associate professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine, these results indicate that “clinical translation of this signature is feasible to allow risk stratification in human oral cancer … to ultimately benefit patients by telling us those who need more aggressive treatments and those who don’t.”
The researchers are now advancing toward developing a laboratory test to predict the aggressiveness of oral cancer in humans.