Four out of five people with oral cancer are in the early stages of the disease when diagnosed, offering a window of opportunity in which well-informed risk assessment and decision-making may dramatically improve the 5-year survival of patients with this deadly disease.
Current staging of oral cancer lesions relies on the size of Tumor, presence of affected lymph Nodes, and involvement of distant Metastases—known as “TNM” staging. But the behavior of the tumor is far more influenced by its molecular (genomic and proteomic) characteristics. There is a critical need to subdivide standard tumor classes into molecular subsets that behave differently from one another, to improve prognostication and treatment selection.
Our multidisciplinary team is developing a system using novel microRNA-based biomarkers to predict survival outcome in patients who are already categorized into ‘early stage’ by the TNM system. Such markers will be well suited to assess early TNM stage patients and to identify the 40% of high-risk patients who will benefit from additional treatments (note that the 5-year survival rate for early stage oral cancer is 60%).
Using next-generation sequencing analysis, our team has identified and validated two miRNA markers. After further internal and independent validation, our findings will provide guidance to clinicians in selecting the most appropriate risk-adjusted treatment regimen and will also lead to more personalized treatments for patients.