Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital have identified 231 new genes associated with head and neck cancer.
Earlier, only 33 genes were known to be associated with head and neck cancer.
"These new genes should advance selection of head and neck-specific gene targets, opening the door to promising new molecular strategies for the early detection and treatment of head and neck cancer. It also may offer the opportunity to help monitor disease progression and a patient's response to treatment," said study lead author Dr. Maria J. Worsham.
The National Cancer Institute has stated that 85 percent of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use.
People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk for developing these cancers than those who use either tobacco or alcohol alone.
Treatment for head and neck cancer varies based on the location and stage of the tumour, but most often includes surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
To identify new genes that could ultimately aid in future diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer, the researchers used a whole-genome methylation approach to detect genes with altered promoter gene regions due to DNA methylation.
DNA methylation - a type of chemical modification of DNA where a methyl group (CH3) can be added (hypermethylation) or removed (hypomethylation) - allows the researchers to look for genetic abnormalities within tumour samples.
Using five DNA samples from tumor tissue, the researchers looked for 1,043 possible cancer genes.
Those genes were cross-examined with those already reported in PubMeth, a cancer methylation database.
Of the 441 genes in the database, only 33 genes were referenced in connection with head and neck cancer.
Overall, the whole-genome methylation approach revealed 231 potential new genes not previously reported in head and neck cancer.
Of those, 50 percent were present in three or more of the DNA samples, and 20 percent were represented in all five samples.
"DNA methylation is emerging as one of the most promising molecular strategies for early detection of cancer, independent of its role in tumour development," said Worsham.
The results from the study were presented at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting and OTO EXPO in San Diego.