Research highlight

Two mutations predict poor survival in head and neck cancers

Nature Genetics

August 4, 2014

The combination of two genetic mutations that together predict worse survival rates for patients with head and neck cancer is reported in a study published online this week in Nature Genetics. These results may help doctors tailor treatments for patients with this cancer type.

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) affects approximately half a million people worldwide each year and is associated with risk factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and human papillomavirus infection. Head and neck cancers vary widely in the types of mutations that cause them, and the outcomes, such as survival time, for patients with similar cancers can be extremely different.

Trey Ideker and colleagues analyzed data from 250 HNSCC patients to find combinations of mutations that help to predict disease outcomes. Two genetic mutations - loss of the gene TP53 and loss of part of chromosome 3 - predicted poor survival rates. The combination of the two mutations led to even worse survival time than would be expected from each mutation’s independent effect. The authors report that the average survival time for patients with both TP53 and chromosome 3 deletions was 40% over five years, compared to 60-80% for other mutation combinations.

doi: 10.1038/ng.3051

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