Novel technique may help detect certain head and neck cancers

January 19, 2004

CHICAGO - Researchers may be able to detect head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC) earlier by testing for newly discovered signature protein patterns found in patients with this cancer, according to an article in the January issue of The Archives of Otolaryngology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

HNSCC represents 5 percent of all cancers in the United States, and an even larger proportion of cancers worldwide, according to the article. Tobacco and alcohol use are well-established risk factors for HNSCC. Despite advances in treating these cancers, little progress has been made in improving survival rates, partially because HNSCC is usually discovered in advanced stages. Even though early diagnosis is imperative for successful treatment of cancer, no accepted screening tests exist for HNSCC, the article states.

Scientists have been searching for biomarkers that can identify the presence of HNSCC. Biomarkers are molecular or biochemical features or signatures that can indicate disease. Newly developed technology that can rapidly screen blood samples for multiple proteins, has enabled scientists to more effectively search for protein biomarkers of disease, including HNSCC.

J. Trad Wadsworth, M.D., from Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, and colleagues investigated whether the new protein "profiling" technology could help them identify protein signatures specific to patients with HNSCC.

The researchers screened blood serum samples from 99 patients with HNSCC, 25 "healthy" smokers, and 102 healthy (normal) controls.

The researchers discovered several protein profiles that were present more commonly in patients with HNSCC than in healthy smokers or control patients. Using these protein patterns to develop a classification system, the researchers were able to distinguish between patients with HNSCC and normal and healthy smokers with high accuracy (80 percent to 92 percent).

"We propose that this technique may allow for the development of a reliable screening test for the early detection and diagnosis of HNSCC, as well as the potential identification of tumor biomarkers," the researchers write.
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To contact J. Trad Wadsworth, M.D., call Doug Gardner at 757-446-6070.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004;130:98-104. Available post-embargo at http://www.archoto.com) Editor's Note: This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Cancer Institutes Early Detection Research Network (Washington, D.C.), a grant from the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program (Washington, D.C.), and a grant from the Virginia Prostate Center (Norfolk).

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312-464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org .

The JAMA Network Journals

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