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Genetic diversity within tumors predicts outcome in head and neck cancer
Date:5/19/2013

A new measure of the heterogeneity the variety of genetic mutations of cells within a tumor appears to predict treatment outcomes of patients with the most common type of head and neck cancer. In the May 20 issue of the journal Cancer, investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary describe how their measure was a better predictor of survival than most traditional risk factors in a small group of patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

"Our findings will eventually allow better matching of treatments to individual patients, based on this characteristic of their tumors," says Edmund Mroz, PhD, of the MGH Center for Cancer Research, lead author of the Cancer report. "This method of measuring heterogeneity can be applied to most types of cancer, so our work should help researchers determine whether a similar relationship between heterogeneity and outcome occurs in other tumors."

For decades investigators have hypothesized that tumors with a high degree of genetic heterogeneity the result of different subgroups of cells undergoing different mutations at different DNA sites would be more difficult to treat because particular subgroups might be more likely to survive a particular drug or radiation or to have spread before diagnosis. While recent studies have identified specific genes and proteins that can confer treatment resistance in tumors, there previously has been no way of conveniently measuring tumor heterogeneity.

Working in the laboratory of James Rocco, MD, PhD director of the Mass. Eye and Ear /MGH Head and Neck Molecular Oncology Research Laboratory, principal investigator at the MGH Center for Cancer Research and senior author of the Cancer report Mroz and his colleagues developed their new measure by analyzing advanced gene sequencing data to produce a value reflecting the genetic diversity within a tumor not only the number of
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Contact: Katie Marquedant
kmarquedant@partners.org
617-726-0337
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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