Recurrent Head and Neck Tumors Could be Vulnerable to Cancer Drug

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New research finds that recurrent head and neck tumors have gene mutations that could be vulnerable to the cancer drug dasatinib.

An recent examination of the genetic landscape of head and neck cancers indicates that while metastatic and primary tumor cells share similar mutations, recurrent disease is associated with gene alterations that could be sensitive to the cancer drug dasatinib. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Yale University School of Medicine will share their findings during a mini-symposium at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2014.

About 50% of patients diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell cancers already have a disease that has spread, or metastasized, to the lymph nodes, explained Jennifer Grandis, MD, professor and vice chair of research, Department of Otolaryngology, Pitt School of Medicine, and director of the Head and Neck Program at UPCI, partner with UPMC Cancer Center. About 20 to 30% of patients thought to be cured of the disease go on to develop recurrent cancer, which typically doesn’t respond to standard treatments.

The researchers conducted the first whole-exome genetic sequencing study on frozen patient samples and found similar mutations both in primary tumors and in the lymph nodes to which their cancers had already spread. But there were different mutations in tumors that had recurred after a period of remission that were not found in their original cancers.

“The recurrent tumors carried mutations in a gene area that encodes for DDR2 cell receptors,” Grandis said. “Other studies have shown that DDR2 mutations can confer sensitivity to the cancer drug dasatinib, which could mean that the drug has promise in the treatment of recurrent head and neck cancers.”

The researchers suggest that further investigation of dasatinib treatment is warranted.

Source: University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute