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Gene Discovery May Advance Head and Neck Cancer Therapy

Expanded list of genetic links might improve diagnosis, treatment, researchers say

MONDAY, Oct. 5 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that could have a major impact on the diagnosis and treatment of one of the most deadly types of cancer, U.S. researchers have identified 231 potential new genes associated with head and neck cancer.

Previously, only 33 genes were known to be linked to head and neck cancer, which includes cancers of the mouth, nose, sinuses, salivary glands, throat and lymph nodes in the neck.

"These new genes should advance selection of head- and neck-specific gene targets, opening the door to promising new molecular strategies for the early detection and treatment of head and neck cancer. It also may offer the opportunity to help monitor disease progression and a patient's response to treatment," study lead author Maria J. Worsham, director of research in the oncology department at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, said in a news release.

She and her colleagues examined DNA in five head and neck cancer tumor samples for 1,043 possible cancer-related genes. Of the 231 potential new genes associated with head and neck cancer, 50 percent were present in three or more of the DNA samples and 20 percent were present in all five samples.

The study was scheduled to be presented Oct. 4 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery Foundation in San Diego.

Head and neck cancer causes 2.1 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. About 39,000 Americans develop head and neck cancer a year, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Tobacco use is linked to 85 percent of head and neck cancers, according to the Cancer Institute.

More information

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has more about head and neck cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Henry Ford Health System, news release, Oct. 4, 2009

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