PITTSBURGH, March 6 – Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) are the first to find that a protein appearing on lung cancer cells in people with extensive smoking histories also is present in head and neck cancers. The results, published in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggest that the protein gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR), known to be associated with lung cancer, is linked to the growth and proliferation of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN).
“Previous research from our group has indicated that when stimulated by its hormone, gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP), GRPR triggers lung cancer cells to grow,” said Jennifer R. Grandis, M.D., associate professor, departments of otolaryngology and pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Since tobacco exposure is a well-known risk factor for both lung cancer and SCCHN, the investigators decided to examine the expression of GRPR in the cells of patients with head and neck cancer. “We found that GRPR was expressed in the cells of patients with head and neck cancer and that increased GRPR expression occurs early on in the formation of SCCHN tumors,” added Jill M. Siegfried, Ph.D., co-author of the study and co-leader of UPCI’s lung cancer program.
In the study, Dr. Grandis and her colleagues compared that expression of GRPR in 25 people with SCCHN and six people without cancer. They found a fivefold increase in the level of GRPR in the tissues of people with cancer compared to those without cancer.
According to Dr. Grandis, also leader of the head and neck cancer program at UPCI, strategies that specifically target GRP to block GRPR may prove to be effective therapies for SCCHN. “If we can create new receptor-directed therapies for head and neck cancer, this may result in very useful anti-cancer strategies for patients. This is especially important given that survival rates for head and neck cancer are among the lowest compared to other major cancers and that treatment studies over the past two decades have failed to demonstrate improved survival for patients with locally advanced SCCHN.”
Nearly 45,000 cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States, and 13,000 die from causes related to this disease. Head and neck cancer occurs in the oral cavity, pharynx and larynx. The early warning signs are persistent mouth sores that do not heal; lumps on the lips, mouth, throat or neck; difficulty chewing or swallowing; chronic hoarseness or a change in the voice; red or white patches in the mouth and persistent earaches.
Support for this study was provided by a grant from the National Cancer Institute Early Detection Research Network. Co-authors include Miriam N. Lango, M.D.; Kevin F. Dyer, B.S.; Vivian Wai Yan Lui, Ph.D.; William E. Gooding, M.S.; Christopher Gubish, M.S., and Jill M. Siegfried, Ph.D., whose laboratory is investigating GRPR in lung cancer.
For more information on head and neck cancer, call the UPCI’s Cancer Information and Referral Service at 1-800-237-4PCI (1-800-237-4724), or visit UPCI’s Web site at http://www.upci.upmc.edu.
The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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