Changes in five proteins after treatment predict possibility of remission.

Scientists at the NIH and University of Michigan found that throat cancer patients who showed a decline in several cancer-related proteins following chemotherapy and radiation treatment were more likely to remain in remission, while those who experienced a large rise over time in those proteins frequently exhibited a return of throat cancer.

In the study, researchers tested the blood of 30 patients who had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment for advanced throat cancer. Starting immediately before treatment and continuing every three months for 12 months, the researchers tested the patients’ blood for five proteins, Interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8, growth-related oncogene-1, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF).

The majority of the patients had a complete response to therapy. Patients whose blood levels of these cytokines and growth factors dropped and remained low following treatment were more likely to continue in remission. Patients who experienced large increases in protein levels were more likely to exhibit a return of the cancer or to die from it. Foexample, large increases in IL-6, VEGF, and HGF concentrations over time yielded a 3.8-fold, 3.0-fold, and 2.9-fold higher risk of dying of throat cancer, respectively.

Patients with an increase in three or more factors were at highest risk for dying of throat cancer—more than twice as likely as patients with an increase in two or fewer factors.

Because the production of these growth factors and cytokines is controlled by a regulator protein, nuclear factor kappa B, the researchers suggest that this protein may represent a new target for drug therapy. This study is published in the June 1, 2007, issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

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