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Tumor-Suppressor Gene Helps Prevent Head and Neck Cancer

The finding could point the way to new treatments, researchers say

FRIDAY, Feb. 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A protein called STAT1 may be a tumor suppressor that helps prevent the spread of head and neck cancers, a new study suggests.

"While the activation of STAT1 has been associated with increased survival in breast cancer patients, its role in head and neck cancer has not been clearly understood," study leader Dr. Jennifer Grandis, a professor of otolaryngology and pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"Our study reveals that it is a critical survival pathway in head and neck cancer, and that therapeutic strategies to restore its functioning may be of benefit to patients," she said.

Reporting in the Feb. 1 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Grandis and her colleagues compared expression of STAT1 in normal cells and in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Tumor cells expressed STAT1 at lower levels than the healthy cells, the researchers found. When the researchers chemically altered the expression of STAT1 to increase levels, the tumor cells stopped growing and died.

"When STAT1 signaling was silenced, the tumor cells grew, indicating to us that its loss promotes cancer growth. On the other hand, when the signaling was increased and combined with chemotherapy, cancer cells were more likely to die," Grandis said.

Head and neck cancer patients have a poor five-year survival rate, even after treatment, the study authors noted. Current therapy options are limited and often cause disabling side effects.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about head and neck cancer.

SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, news release, Jan. 31, 2006
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