PITTSBURGH, June 11 -- Findings that tissue levels of two proteins correlate closely with the prognosis of head and neck cancer may significantly alter the detection, staging and treatment of this disease, according to a scientific article published in the June 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The preliminary study, reported by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), focuses on two proteins that accelerate the growth of cancer cells and now appear to predict clinical outcome as accurately as cervical lymph node dissection (removal of lymph nodes from the neck), the traditional staging method. The UPCI report also bolsters the theory that blocking overproduction of these two proteins might effectively cure head and neck cancer.
The marker proteins, transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-") and its receptor, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), are known to be overproduced in some cancers, including breast, lung and ovarian carcinoma. Higher levels of these two proteins correlate with a worse prognosis; correspondingly, lower levels correlate with longer life expectancy. Previous scientific reports have found that TGF-" and EGFR are not expressed uniformly within a specific type of cancer. Moreover, until now, no substantial support existed that levels of these proteins rival other traditional methods of measuring disease progression, such as regional lymph node staging or evaluating tumor size.
"Ours is the first report which finds that measuring levels of these proteins is as accurate as removing lymph nodes to measure disease progression and predict patient outcome," said Jennifer Rubin Grandis, M.D., principal investigator on the study, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at the UPCI and assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.