Scientists Find Two Routes To Mouth Cancer

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Mouth Cancer Management

Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered mouth cancer can develop along two distinct pathways, an aggressive or less aggressive route, reveals a study published in Cancer Research on August 1.

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The research lays the foundations for further studies that could help to improve the management of pre-cancerous lesions and possibly prevent the development of the disease in the future. The researchers from Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow took samples from the mouths of 19 people with pre-cancerous lesions, or spots, 16 patients with mouth cancer and four normal mouths. They compared these samples, each one made up from thousands of cells, in an attempt to find out if the disease develops in more than one way.

The researchers identified two different routes by which mouth cancer develops, resulting in 'mortal' and 'immortal' tumour cells when they are grown in the laboratory. 'Mortal' and 'immortal' cells are genetically very different. 'Mortal' cells have a limited lifespan and so will exhaust themselves as they develop into a tumour, being less likely to spread or recur following treatment. 'Immortal' cells on the other hand are much more resilient and will keep on dividing, making them more likely to spread and to cause a recurrence - a major characteristic of aggressive disease.

They found that faults in the p53 gene and missing expression of the p16 gene were closely associated with 'immortal', aggressive tumours. Importantly, these same changes were also found in pre-cancerous cells, which grew in laboratory cultures as 'immortal' cells. When it is working normally, the p53 gene stops damaged cells dividing and should stop cancers growing, which is probably why faults were found in the p53 gene in 'immortal' cells rather than in 'mortal' ones. The p16 gene helps to control the cell regulation process and can prevent cancer from developing

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