Researchers identify gene signature for improved oral cavity cancer predictions

Histopathology of squamous cell carcinoma in situ

"Histopathology of squamous cell carcinoma in situ.jpg" by Mikael Häggström, M.D. is marked with CC0 1.0. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) impacts over 30,000 people in the U.S. each year. While tobacco and heavy alcohol consumption are the major risk factors for OSCC, an increasing number of cases are diagnosed among individuals without these conventional risk factors.

Patients diagnosed with early stage OSCC often undergo an extensive neck surgery for doctors to accurately assess whether their cancer has metastasized, or spread, to lymph nodes in their neck. In many cases, patients turn out to have negative pathological results after undergoing this highly invasive procedure. Recently, researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University and Cornell University, developed a cancer prediction tool that may potentially reverse this trend in treating this devastating disease.

“Clinical decisions are currently based on criteria that often don’t properly predict the patient’s lymph node (LN) metastatic status,” said Nishant Agrawal, Alexander Pearson, and Ari Rosenberg of the University of Chicago. Support for the study was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.