A novel finding that two gene mutations working together produce a more aggressive phenotype of head and neck cancer is pointing the way for the use of genetic information to more accurately identify and eventually treat head and neck cancer, much like applications currently being used for other cancer types, such as breast cancer. The study was published in Nature Genetics
According to Ezra Cohen, MD, professor in the division of hematology/oncology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and co-author of the study, this finding “will allow us to better stratify patients with head and neck cancer to provide more accurate prognosis, guide therapy, and, ultimately, choose specific treatments based on the genetic alterations of the tumor.”
In the study, investigators found that two genetic alterations (TP53 mutation and chromosome 3p loss) working together produced tumors that predicted a worse survival than tumors that contained either genetic alteration alone.
Using the complete genomic signatures of 250 patients with squamous cell head and neck cancer taken from The Cancer Genome Atlas, the investigators found that 179 of the patients had both mutations, 50 had only one mutation, and 22 had neither mutation. When looking at outcome data, they found patients with both mutations had a higher likelihood of dying from cancer within two years, compared to those with only one or no mutations.
According to Dr. Cohen, a coauthor of the study, he and his colleagues at UCSD are already using this information to begin finding molecularly targeted therapy directed at the worst prognosis tumors.