Molecular Genetics of Head and Neck Cancer

Lyon L. Gleich, MD, Frank N. Salamone, MD


Cancer Control. 2002;9(5) 

In This Article

Molecular Detection of Head and Neck Cancers

Screening tests for head and neck cancers are being developed. These cancers are bathed in saliva, and cells exfoliate into this fluid. Analysis of saliva for abnormal cancer genes may allow tumor screening. An analysis of saliva from 44 head and neck cancers using a panel of PCR probes found microsatellite alterations present in both the saliva and the tumor in 36 cases.[92] Although saliva samples have the potential for screening for disease or recurrence, these tests are not currently in clinical use and have not yet been verified for clinical application.

Attempts have been made at finding p53 immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies in the serum and saliva of head and neck cancer patients with mixed results. In a study of 271 patients with oral squamous carcinoma, p53 antibodies were present in 25% of serum samples.[93] A low percentage of patients with head and neck cancer exhibit p53 antibody in their saliva.[94] These results are not surprising, given that p53 is abnormal in approximately 50% of head and neck cancers.

Abnormal promoter methylation is common in head and neck cancer genes. Using PCR, the presence of promoter hypermethylation can be detected in the serum and saliva of patients with head and neck cancer.[48,49]


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