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

inflammatory response and in the growth of cells and new blood vessels. Because the researchers used a bioassay technology that can simultaneously analyze the concentrations of each protein, only a small amount of blood was required for the test.

The majority of the patients had a complete response to therapy. Patients whose blood levels of these cytokines and growth factors dropped and remained low following treatment were more likely to continue in remission. Patients who experienced large increases in protein levels were more likely to exhibit a return of the cancer or to die from it. For example, large increases in IL-6, VEGF, and HGF concentrations over time yielded a 3.8-fold, 3.0-fold, and 2.9-fold higher risk of dying of throat cancer, respectively.

Patients with an increase in three or more factors were at highest risk for dying of throat cancermore than twice as likely as patients with an increase in two or fewer factors. Finally, patients with the sharpest rises in protein levels had lower chances for survival, with patients who had a history of smoking experiencing the largest spikes. (For this reason, estimates of relative risk of death were adjusted to exclude the compounding effects of smoking.)

Because the production of these growth factors and cytokines is controlled by the same master switcha regulator protein known as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB)the researchers suggest that this protein may represent a new target for drug therapy. Drugs that help turn off NF-kappaB are currently being tested in clinical trials at NIH and elsewhere.

The researchers note that a few of the patients experienced elevations in cytokine levels related to other illnesses or injuries, and not to throat cancer; therefore, they caution that further studies are needed in larger groups of patients to confirm if this could be a useful tool to monitor for cancer, infection, or other complications.

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