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New indicator may help identify patients with increased risk from throat cancer
Date:1/16/2012

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have found a new indicator that may predict which patients with a common type of throat cancer are most likely have the cancer spread to other parts of their bodies.

Patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma who had "matted" lymph nodes nodes that are connected together had a 69 percent survival rate over three years, compared to 94 percent for patients without matted nodes, according to a study published online ahead of print publication in Head & Neck.

The oropharynx is an area that includes the back of the tongue, soft palate, throat and tonsils.

"The spread of cancer throughout the body accounts for about 45 percent of the deaths from oropharyngeal carcinoma," says the study's senior author, Douglas B. Chepeha, M.D., M.S.P.H., an associate professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the U-M Medical School. "Our findings may help doctors identify patients who are at higher risk for having their cancer metastasize and who would benefit from additional systemic therapy. Conversely, some patients without matted nodes may benefit from a reduction of the current standard treatment, which would cut down on uncomfortable side effects."

Notably, the findings indicate an increased risk independent of other established prognostic factors, such as the patient's history of smoking or whether they have the Human papillomavirus (HPV), the study found. Smoking (tobacco and marijuana), heavy alcohol use and HPV infection have each been linked to the development of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma.

Matted nodes appear to be an especially strong indicator of increased risk among patients who are HPV-positive, even though HPV-positive patients had better overall outcomes than their HPV-negative peers. The patients with the best outcomes were HPV-positive non-smokers.

"It's not clear why we're finding these survival differences for patients who
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Contact: Ian Demsky
idemsky@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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