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What are head and neck cancers?
Most head and neck cancers begin in the moist, mucus membranes lining the inside of the mouth, nose and throat. These membranes are made up of squamous cells and the head and neck cancers that grow in these cells are called squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers most often affect people over the age of 50 and the rates in men are more than twice as high as the rates in women.1 In 2010, about 36,000 Americans are estimated to have been diagnosed with head and neck cancers and an estimated 7,880 were expected have died of squamous cell carcinomas. Known risks for developing head and neck cancers are smoking and heavy drinking. View additional information on head and neck cancers.
What have The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) researchers learned about head and neck cancers?
TCGA researchers have:
- Identified molecular trademarks of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated and tobacco-smoking associated head and neck squamous cell carcinomas that may help improve the classification of this cancer type
- The integration of HPV, a virus harboring oncoproteins E6 and E7 that cause HPV positive head and neck squamous cell carcinomas, was linked to increased somatic copy number variants in the genomes of patients
- HPV positive tumors were also characterized by:
- Shortened or deleted TRAF3, a gene that codes for a protein that helps regulate the body’s immune response
- Amplification of E2F1, a gene encoding a member of the E2F transcription factor family that is involved in cell cycle regulation
- Mutations in PIK3CA
- HPV negative tumors contained novel co-amplifications of 11q13 and 11q22, an event that likely promotes the interaction of BIRC2 and FADD, genes that together work to inhibit cell death
- Smoking-related tumors featured TP53 mutations, CDKN2A inactivation, and frequent copy number alterations
- Described molecular characteristics that may help clinicians improve the specificity of the diagnosis and treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas
- HPV positive and HPV negative cancers altered the activity of different proteins involved in regulating the cell cycle, suggesting that treating these cancers according to their origin may help target the specific cause of the tumor’s uncontrolled proliferation
Where can I find more information about the TCGA Research Network’s studies or studies using TCGA data?
Where can I find clinical trials to treat head and neck cancers that are supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)?
View a list of NCI-supported head and neck cancers clinical trials that are now accepting patients.
1American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2010. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2010.