OCT 08, 2020 5:30 AM PDT

Oral cancer pain levels indicate metastasis

A new study from NYU College of Dentistry researchers provides insight as to why patients with metastatic oral cancer experience greater pain than patients with oral cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body. The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Study author Brian L. Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, is director of the NYU Oral Cancer Center. He has dedicated his career to understanding oral cancer. "I have been investigating the underlying cause of oral cancer pain for two decades. This is the first time that we have demonstrated a correlation between a patient's pain and the clinical behavior of the cancer," says Schmidt.

Oral cancer can cause patients severe pain when talking and eating. Now genetic and cellular clues suggest that oral cancer is more likely to metastasize in patients experiencing high levels of pain. When oral cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, survival rates drop by half. Yet, detecting this spread through the available imaging methods is difficult. If pain levels could be used as indicators of spread, say the researchers, it may be possible to detect metastasis earlier on.

"Clinicians and researchers are keen to define a biomarker that accurately predicts metastasis," said lead author Aditi Bhattacharya, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at NYU College of Dentistry and an investigator at NYU Bluestone Center for Clinical Research. "Given that patients with metastatic oral cancer experience more pain, we thought that a patient's level of pain might help predict metastasis. A surgeon could then use this knowledge to only remove lymph nodes in patients with cancers that are most likely to metastasize."

As of now, surgeons often preemptively remove lymph nodes in an invasive surgery called prophylactic neck dissection in order to stave off metastasis. However, estimates suggest that up to 70% are unnecessary.

Photo: Pixabay

In conducting their analysis, the researchers found differences in gene expression between metastatic cancers from patients with high levels of pain versus non-metastatic cancers from patients not experiencing pain. The team found 40 genes that were more highly expressed in painful metastatic cancers.  

The researchers say these genes could act as biomarkers for oral cancer metastasis and could assist providers in making difficult decisions about surgery procedures. "While we need to undertake a follow-up study, our current data reveals that a patient's pain intensity score works as well as the current method--the depth of invasion, or how deeply a tumor has invaded nearby tissue--as an index to predict metastasis," said Bhattacharya.

Sources: Scientific Reports, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 18, 2021
Cancer
Light Alcohol Use Linked to Higher Cancer Risk
JUL 18, 2021
Light Alcohol Use Linked to Higher Cancer Risk
Moderate alcohol use is linked to a substantially higher risk of several forms of cancer, including breast, colon, and o ...
AUG 18, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cancer Patients Use Less Cannabis than General Public
AUG 18, 2021
Cancer Patients Use Less Cannabis than General Public
Despite increasing legalization for recreational cannabis across the US, cancer patients have largely abstained from usi ...
AUG 20, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Blood Pressure Drugs Boost Survival in Colorectal Cancer
AUG 20, 2021
Blood Pressure Drugs Boost Survival in Colorectal Cancer
Common drugs used to regulate blood pressure may improve survival rates among patients with colorectal cancer, also know ...
SEP 23, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
The FDA approves the first and only oral treatment for a certain non-small cell lung cancer.
SEP 23, 2021
The FDA approves the first and only oral treatment for a certain non-small cell lung cancer.
Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval for the first oral therapy to ...
OCT 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Color-Changing Slides Improve Accuracy in Cancer Diagnosis
OCT 07, 2021
Color-Changing Slides Improve Accuracy in Cancer Diagnosis
When cancer is diagnosed, a sample has to be taken from a patient, treated, and analyzed. Researchers have now modified ...
NOV 11, 2021
Cancer
US Military Veterans: Cancer Risk and Cancer Research
NOV 11, 2021
US Military Veterans: Cancer Risk and Cancer Research
The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) estimates about 50,000 new cancer cases diagnosed each year. In total, ...
Loading Comments...