Study looks at reason for improved head and neck cancer survival rates

In the first study of its kind researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine have examined the possible reasons for the improved survival rates for some head and neck cancer patients in the UK (University of Liverpool, 2017).

A rising incidence of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), a type head and neck cancer arising in the tonsils, base of tongue and soft palate, has occurred throughout the developed world, and has frequently been attributed to an increasing impact of human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining the body. Examples include the mouth and throat and anogenital tract.

Researchers from the Institute of Translational Medicine’s Mersey Head and Neck Oncology Research Group (MHNORG) noted that OPSCC patients who were HPV-positive display increased sensitivity to radiotherapy and improved survival rates in comparison to HPV-negative forms of the disease. The cellular mechanisms for these differences was unknown.

The study, led by Dr Jason Parsons, clearly demonstrates that two that two HPV-positive OPSCC cells are indeed more radiosensitive than two HPV-negative OPSCC cells.

Jason Parsons said “This translates to an increased capacity and efficiency for the repair of DNA base damage and SSBs in these cells. In addition, we demonstrate that HPV-positive but interestingly more so HPV-negative OPSCC display increased radiosensitivity in combination with the PARP inhibitor olaparib. This suggests that PARP inhibition in combination with radiotherapy may be an effective treatment for both forms of OPSCC, particularly for HPV-negative OPSCC which is relatively radioresistant. This study also draws attention to the need for further research capable of guiding the implementation of appropriate prevention strategies for both types of disease.”

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