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
BA Environmental Studies
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 25, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
Cancer Cells Migrate To 'Softer' Spots
JUL 25, 2022
Cancer Cells Migrate To 'Softer' Spots
The environments surrounding cancer cells are thought to promote cancer growth. Researchers have previously shown that c ...
SEP 05, 2022
Cancer
A Look at Occupational Cancers on Labor Day
SEP 05, 2022
A Look at Occupational Cancers on Labor Day
Today marks Labor Day in the United States, an annual celebration of the American workforce and its contribution to the ...
SEP 19, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
CGP: Simplifying the path from tumor to treatment
SEP 19, 2022
CGP: Simplifying the path from tumor to treatment
The promise of NGS in personalized cancer care For years, next-generation sequencing (NGS) has enabled oncologists to id ...
OCT 07, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
A wearable sensor that can monitor tumor size changes in real-time
OCT 07, 2022
A wearable sensor that can monitor tumor size changes in real-time
As cancer drugs are developed, one important process the drug goes through is testing in experimental animals. The use o ...
NOV 09, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Want to Study Copy Number Alterations in Cells? Bring MACHETE
NOV 09, 2022
Want to Study Copy Number Alterations in Cells? Bring MACHETE
Sure, MACHETE is a cool name, but the researchers that developed the technique are hoping people don't focus solely on t ...
NOV 29, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Chemotherapy May Increase Disease Susceptibility for Two Generations
NOV 29, 2022
Chemotherapy May Increase Disease Susceptibility for Two Generations
A common chemotherapy drug may make future generations more susceptible to disease. The corresponding study was publishe ...
Loading Comments...