Scientists work on vaccine for mouth cancer

DNA test could be key to targetting treatments for head and neck cancer.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that a DNA test may help predict which patients will respond well to particular types of treatments.

The DNA tests reveals the level of activity of a virus linked to the cause of tonsil, tongue and soft palate cancer.

It is estimated that more than 7,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year in the UK and approximately 3,500 cases result in death. 

These cancers include tumours of the mouth, lips, throat and voice-box, and some have been linked to the sexually transmitted infection, HPV-16. 

Scientists at Liverpool analysed the DNA of more than 90 cancerous tissue samples to look for genes that indicated infection.

The team found that nearly two thirds of tonsil tumour samples showed evidence of the HPV-16 gene.

It is thought that chemical alterations in the virus’s DNA trigger the production of proteins that can alter the rate at which cells grow and repair. 

This increases the possibility of subsequent cancer development. 

However, recent studies have found that patients who have the HPV infection when they are diagnosed with cancer, respond better to chemotherapy or radiation therapy than those that do not have the infection. 

Researchers are now working to develop a clinical trial for a therapeutic HPV vaccine in head and neck cancer.

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