Colorado study suggests new combination treatment against relapsed head and neck cancer

IMAGE: This is Sana Karam, M.D., Ph.D. view more 

Credit: University of Colorado Cancer Center

The five-year survival rate for locally-advanced head and neck cancer is only 46 percent, even with treatments including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or genetically targeted treatments such as cetuximab. Often, the problem is that while treatments initially work, cancer evolves to resist treatment.

“The question has been how are cancers resisting these treatments,” says Sana Karam, MD, PhD, University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator and assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at the CU School of Medicine.

To answer this question, Karam worked with first author and postdoctoral fellow, Shilpa Bhatia, to explore the genetics of tumor samples taken at the time of a patient’s first surgery and then again once cancer progressed following treatment.

“By finding what was different between tumors that responded to treatment and those that had learned to resist treatment, we hoped to find some biological predictors or targets that we could exploit or manipulate to improve outcomes,” Bhatia says.

What they found is that a pair of genes associated with early brain development but silent in healthy adult tissue had been turned back on in tumor samples that resisted therapy. The


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