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Blood Test may Help Signal Tumor's Remission, Return in Throat Cancer Patients

A blood test that detects proteins commonly released by a growing tumor could one day become a useful tool for monitoring the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation treatment in people with advanced throat cancer, according to a study published in the June 1, 2007, issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

Scientists in the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and National Cancer Institute (NCI), two of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in collaboration with researchers of the University of Michigan, found that throat cancer patients who showed a decline in several cancer-related proteins following chemotherapy and radiation treatment were more likely to remain in remission, while those who experienced a large rise over time in those proteins frequently exhibited a return of throat cancer. The findings could help lead to the development of a blood test that enables doctors to detect the recurrence of throat cancer early on, when there is still time to pursue a second line of treatment, such as surgery or drug therapy.

Cancers of the head and neck are insidious because surgical removal of the tumor can severely impair a persons ability to talk and to swallow, said NIDCD Director, James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D. A blood test that enables doctors to closely monitor a patients rehabilitation while sparing the patients voice, speech, and swallowing ability is an excellent example of the predictive, preemptive, and personalized approach to medicine that the NIH strives for.

Roughly 20 years ago, the primary method for treating throat cancer was to surgically remove the tumor. Because this treatment can severely impair a patients quality of life by damaging voice, speech, and swallowing, in many cases physicians and their patients are now opting for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation as a first line of treatment. However, there is no way to predict which patients will respond wel
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