Intra-tumor heterogeneity in head and neck cancer and its clinical implications.

Mroz EA, Rocco JW
World J Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2 60-67 06/01/2016


The presence of heritable differences among cancer cells within a tumor, called intra-tumor genetic heterogeneity, has long been suspected of playing a role in poor responses to therapy. Research over the past decade has documented the existence of such heterogeneity within tumors of individual patients and documented its potential clinical significance. The research methods for identifying this heterogeneity were not, however, readily adaptable to widespread clinical application. After a brief review of this background, we describe the development of a measure of intra-tumor genetic heterogeneity, based on whole-exome sequencing of individual tumor samples, that could be applied to biopsy specimens in a clinical setting. This measure has now been used in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) to document, for the first time, a relation of high intra-tumor genetic heterogeneity to shorter overall survival in a large, multi-institutional study. The implications of heterogeneity for research and clinical care thus now need to be addressed.

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