Spectrin Expression Could Indicate Cancer Survival

Patients with squamous cell mouth cancer with an expressed spectrin gene have a 4.6 times higher death rate.

In a recent study, researchers discovered the tumor gene spectrin can potentially help predict survival outcomes in patients with mouth and tongue cancer.

In a study published in Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery, the Gene Expression Barcode was used to examine genetic data collected from 54 tumor samples from patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. Typically, physicians estimate survival based on the stage of the disease, which was determined by the size of the tumor and whether it metastasized.

Researchers noted that staging is not always a precise way to predict prognosis since some patients with early-stage disease can have worse outcomes than later-stage patients. Previous studies have shown that patients with oropharynx cancers from the human papillomavirus (HPV) have better outcomes, but there is no reliable biomarker to predict outcomes in HPV-negative patients.

In the current study, researchers found that when the gene spectrin, which is involved with forming cell membranes, is expressed, patients are 4.6 times more likely to die and therefore require more aggressive treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy, in addition to surgery.

Researchers found that patients whose sprectrin gene is unexpressed can potentially just undergo surgery. When cancer stage and other factors were taken into account, patients with expressed spectrin were more likely to die than those whose gene was unexpressed.

The study authors conclude that spectrin may provide information cancer stage alone cannot provide, but the findings need to be validated in an independent patient group.