Molecular diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

V. M. van Houten*, M. W. van den Brekel, F. Denkers, D. R. Colnot, J. Westerga, P. J. van Diest, G. B. Snow, R. H. Brakenhoff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Patients with advanced stages of head and neck cancer frequently develop locoregional recurrence as well as distant metastases. These data indicate that traditional diagnostic methods such as histopathology and radiology are not sensitive enough to detect the small numbers of tumor cells which are left behind, defined as minimal residual disease (MRD). Sensitive diagnostic assays based on molecular markers appear to be powerful tools to improve the staging of these patients. At the DNA level, tumor-specific p53 mutations seem to have great potential for the detection of "occult" tumor cells at surgical margins and lymph nodes. At the RNA level HNSCC associated antigens like the E48 antigen, allow the detection of rare HNSCC cells in blood and bone marrow and, it is hoped, also in lymph nodes and lymph node aspirates. However, the molecular assays which are used to detect MRD are subject to certain (technical) problems which affect their sensitivity and specificity. In this paper we will present examples of molecular assays such as the plaque assay using p53 mutations and the E48 RT-PCR, and show their use for MRD detection in cervical lymph nodes. In addition, we will discuss the problems and pitfalls associated with these sensitive techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-106
Number of pages17
JournalRecent results in cancer research. Fortschritte der Krebsforschung. Progrès dans les recherches sur le cancer
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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