Predicting Oral Cancer

Oral cancer risk levels distinguished with molecular markers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Oral cancers can occur anywhere in the mouth. As with any cancer, the sooner it’s found, the better. A new tool helps doctors know when oral cancer may be in a patient’s future.

A recent study finds that a set of molecular markers can help judge which lesions in the mouth are most likely to turn into oral cancer.

"Have your doctor or dentist look at any mouth sore."

The Oral Cancer Prediction Longitudinal Study was conducted in Canada at the Oral Cancer Prevention Program at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver.

"The results of our study should help to build awareness that not everyone with a low-grade oral premalignant lesion will progress to cancer," said Program Director, Miriam Rosin, PhD. "However, they should also begin to give clinicians a better idea of which patients need closer follow-up."

Every year, cancer shows up in the mouths of nearly 300,000 people around the globe. Some of these start as spots – or lesions – in the mouth that have not yet become cancerous.

It’s always been difficult to tell which of these pre-malignant lesions will progress to full blown cancer.

In an earlier study, Rosin’s team had analyzed the DNA of tissue that eventually turned into oral cancer. This research provided a method for grouping patients according to risk.

For this study, researchers examined pre-cancerous tissue from nearly 300 patients, who were followed over a period of years. These patients were placed into either low-, intermediate- or high-risk groups.

Two additional DNA markers were used to zero in on a patient’s oral cancer risk factors.

"Compared with the low-risk group, [the] intermediate-risk patients had an 11-fold increased risk for progression, and the high-risk group had a 52-fold increase in risk for progression," Dr. Rosin said.

Only about 3 percent of the people in the low-risk group developed cancer within five years.For those in the intermediate-risk, just over 16 percent saw the disease progress to cancer, while about 63 percent of high-risk patients developed oral cancer within five years.

To translate, this means that two out of every three high-risk lesions are progressing toward cancer, Dr. Rosin says.

"Identifying which early lesions are more likely to progress may give clinicians a chance to intervene in high-risk cases, and may help to prevent unnecessary treatment in low-risk cases,” Dr. Rosin said.

This study was published August 21 in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

No financial information was available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 6, 2012
Last Updated:
September 7, 2012