Up to half of patients with head and neck cancer will experience tumour recurrence

Up to half of patients who suffer from head and neck cancer will experience tumour recurrence or new tumoursUp to half of patients who suffer from head and neck cancer will experience tumour recurrence or new tumours.

This is according to a new study carried out by the University of Michigan.

The research team discovered a mechanism where head and neck cancer cells hijack nearby healthy tissue.

Principal investigator Nisha D’Silva said the team looked at the mechanism as a specific gene – DMBT1 – appeared on a screen of genes that are silenced during oral cancer.

Aggressive invasion

When DMBT1 was quashed in head and neck cancer cells, it sparked aggressive invasion and metastasis in laboratory studies. It was also associated with metastasis in patients.

In addition, they also discovered that two proteins secreted by the cancer cells suppress DMBT1 in healthy tissue nearby. This encourages small clusters of cancer cells to invade.

The mechanism was looked at in chick embryos, mice and cultures of human cancer cells.

‘The importance of this paper is that loss of DMBT1 in cancer cells and adjacent normal tissue benefits cancer cells,’ she said.

‘It allows them to travel in tiny groups away from the main tumour.

‘That is why cancer cells enlist the help of the adjacent tissue. Finding ways to interrupt this communication and also enhance DMBT1 expression could help improve outcome.’

Implications for other cancers

She added that the findings – published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine – could open possibilities for new treatments that target proteins in cancer cells that regulate DMBT1.

In turn, this could also have implications for other cancers in which the expression of DMBT1 is altered.

Statistics reveal head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, with 600,000 new cases annually.

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