Circulation Signposts

Uncovering Prognostic Clues in Head and Neck Cancer

Tumor cells in the circulating blood of patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCS) of the head and neck may predict disease recurrence and reduced survival. An increased number of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) also correlates with a worse outcome.

Those are the early findings from an ongoing prospective study of the prognostic importance of CTCs by researchers at the OSUCCC – James.

“These findings suggest the presence of CTCs in the blood is correlated with reduced disease-free survival,” says co-first author Kris Jatana, MD, assistant professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “If these results are supported with continued prospective follow-up, CTCs would be used as a prognostic marker to help further individualize therapy.”

Currently, no prognostic blood test exists for this malignancy.

To identify CTCs, the researchers first removed normal cells so that only abnormal (cancer) cells remained, a method called negative depletion. They eliminated all of the normal red blood cells by rupturing them, then removed normal white blood cells by labeling them with magnetic nanoparticles and using a magnetic field to pull them out of each sample. After that, they stained and manually counted the abnormal cells.

The study involves 48 patients who underwent surgical intervention for SCC of the head and neck. To date, no instances of cancer recurrence or disease-related mortality have occurred in patients with no CTCs, but the study has found a correlation between an increasing number of CTCs and a worse prognosis.

Published in the international journal of Archive of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.

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