Immune Cells Predict Success of Head and Neck Cancer Treatment, U-M Study Finds
Finding could help target treatments to avoid unnecessary side effects
ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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
Previous studies have shown that HPV-positive head and neck
cancers tend to be more responsive to current treatments, and these
patients overall tend to have better outcomes than patients with
The researchers suggest that these new findings could help them
devise strategies to boost the immune system of HPV-negative
patients and improve the success rate of current therapies.
"We're actively pursuing how we can capitalize on this
information and devise better immunotherapy approaches to head and
neck cancer that would be less toxic than surgery or intensive
radiation and hopefully cure more patients," Wolf says.
Head and neck cancer statistics: 35,720 Americans will be
diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year and 7,600 will die
from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society
Additional U-M authors: Derrick Wansom; Emily Light; Francis
Worden, M.D.; Mark Prince, M.D.; Susan Urba, M.D.; Douglas Chepeha,
M.D.; Kitrina Cordell, DDS; Avraham Eisbruch, M.D.; Jeremy Taylor,
Ph.D.; Nisha D'Silva, BDS, Ph.D.; Jeffrey Moyer, M.D.; Carol
Bradford, M.D.; and Thomas Carey, Ph.D.
Funding: National Institutes of Health, National Cancer
Institute, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications
Disorders, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research,
The Diane and Sinabaldo Tozzi Research Fund
Reference: American Head and Neck Society annual meeting, April
28-29, 2010, Las Vegas
Resources: U-M Cancer AnswerLine, 800-865-1125 U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, www.mcancer.org
Source: University of Michigan Health System
Posted: April 2010