Immune Cells Predict Success Of Head And Neck Cancer Treatment

Red Orbit

Posted on: Monday, 26 April 2010, 14:45 CDT

Finding could help target treatments to avoid unnecessary side effects

Levels of a key type of immune cell are higher in head and neck cancer patients whose tumors are linked to the human papillomavirus, or HPV, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The finding suggests a way to predict which tumors are most likely to respond to chemotherapy and radiation and allow doctors to choose the best treatment option up front.

“In the past, we would give toxic chemotherapy to a patient, look at how the tumor responded and then decide whether the patient needed surgery or radiation. Now with patients who have HPV-positive cancers, this study suggests we can look in the microscope, measure the level of these immune cells and, based on that, select a treatment that is going to be potentially less toxic for the patient and most effective at curing the cancer,” says study author Gregory T. Wolf, M.D., professor and chair emeritus of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School.

Results of the study will be presented April 29 at the American Head and Neck Society annual meeting.

The researchers looked at 66 patients with oropharyngeal cancer, which includes cancers of the tonsils and the tongue base. They measured levels of several immune system cells in the blood and tracked HPV status.

The HPV-positive patients had higher levels of a subset of T-lymphocyte cells, a type of immune cell that is responsible for killing tumor cells. Patients who responded to an initial round of chemotherapy also had higher levels of these cells, while patients whose cancer recurred had lower levels.

“When we looked at how successful chemotherapy and radiation were, the levels of those killer T-lymphocyte cells predicted who was going to do well. That ability to predict response was even better than when we look at whether the tumors were HPV-positive or negative,” says Wolf, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.