A molecular fingerprint in head and neck cancers can predict whether a patient's tumor will be life threatening.
The molecular fingerprint biomarker is considered particularly promising because it can detect the level of risk immediately following diagnosis. This biomarker could become a component of a new test to guide how aggressively those with head and neck tumors should be treated.
A study was performed at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University (Bronx, NY, USA) and Montefiore Medical Center (Bronx, NY, USA), the University Hospital for Einstein. Tissue samples were taken from tumors and nearby healthy tissue of 123 head and neck cancer patients at Montefiore and levels of 736 microRNAs were measured. Of all the microRNAs measured, one in particular–miR-375– stood out for being the most down-regulated in head and neck tumors compared with its levels in adjacent normal tissue.
The 123 patients were ranked according to how extreme the difference was between the miR-375 in their tumor and in adjacent normal tissue, with that difference expressed as the ratio: miR-375 level in patient's tumor tissue divided by miR-375 level in patient's normal tissue. All patients were then followed throughout the course of their illness.
MiR-375 proved to be a highly useful biomarker for predicting disease outcome. The patients for whom the difference between their tumor and normal-tissue miR-375 levels was most extreme (i.e., the one-fourth of patients with the lowest ratios) were nearly 13 times more likely to die or 9 times more likely to experience distant spread (metastasis) of their cancer compared to patients with higher miR-375 ratios.
The findings were published online January 9, 2012, in the American Journal of Pathology.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Montefiore Medical Center