Markers predict step from oral lesions to cancer

Researchers are developing a set of biomarkers than can help doctors pick out the changes in the mouth that will progress to cancer. Oral cancers affect around 300,000 people worldwide every year, and many develop from oral premalignant lesions, but not all patients with these changes will develop the more serious form of disease.

The researchers looked at samples from almost 300 patients with low-grade changes who had already been sorted into low- and high-risk groups, and used additional DNA markers known as loss of heterozygosity (LOH) to recategorize the samples into low-, intermediate- and high-risk groups. Only 3% of patients in the low-risk group had the disease that progressed to cancer within 5 years, compared with 16% in the intermediate-risk group and 63% in the high-risk group.

"Compared with the low-risk group, intermediate-risk patients had an elevenfold increased risk for progression and the high-risk group had a fifty-twofold increase in risk for progression," BC Cancer Agency's Miriam Rosin said in a statement. "That means that 2 out of every 3 high-risk cases are progressing."

Based on these results, a biomarker-based test could direct intervention in high-risk cases, and avoid unnecessary screening or treatment for low-risk cases. The research was published in Cancer Prevention Research.

- read the press release
- see the abstract