“We found scores and scores of proteins that were differentially expressed,” says Dr. Christine Gourin, otolaryngologist at the Medical College of Georgia and the study’s lead author. “We found there are at least eight proteins whose expression significantly differs between controls and people with cancer.”

This protein fingerprint correctly classified study participants as cancer patients with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity – 82 percent and 76 percent, respectively, according to research. “If these results hold up over time, they would suggest that this would be a good screening test for at-risk people,” Gourin says. “Right now there is no good, effective screening test for head and neck cancer short of physical examination. Unfortunately it takes the development of symptoms to warrant a visit to the doctor, such as a sore throat; ear, tongue or mouth pain; painful eating or swallowing; or a change in the voice. Sometimes the first sign is a lump in the neck which is already a sign of an advanced tumour that has spread to the lymph nodes.”

Belated diagnoses translate to fairly dismal survival rates: less than 50 percent five years following diagnosis of stage three or four tumours, Gourin says. The rare patient who is diagnosed early faces much better odds: voice box cancer caught in stage one has about a 95 percent five-year survival, for example. Study findings indicate the protein fingerprint also is highly successful at classifying specific types of head and neck cancer, correctly classifying 83 percent of oral cavity tumours and 88 percent of laryngeal tumours, as examples, researchers say.

Also, in a small subset of twelve patients, protein expression helped researchers correctly classify how cancers responded to treatment, indicating its effectiveness in long-term follow-up, Gourin says.

MEDICA.de; Source: Medical College of Georgia