Researchers at Glasgow's Beatson Institute have found that mouth cancer develops in two specific ways rather than from a single mechanism as previously believed. The study done for Cancer Research throws light on how different stages of oral cancer might be detected early.
Mouth cancer usually presents as sores, ulcers, red or white patches or unexplained pain in the mouth or ear. Other symptoms include lumps in their necks, a persistent sore throat or difficulty swallowing. In the current study, researchers examined samples from 19 people with pre-cancerous lesions, 16 people with definite cancer and four healthy samples as control.
They found that in the most developed form of cancer, there were distinct faults in the p53 gene, which is supposed to stop cells from dividing in an uncontrolled manner. In this form of cancer, researchers named cells as "immortal". The second was "mortal" cells, which were found in tumors that have limited life and will recede by themselves.
"We found that many of the molecular changes found in 'mortal' and 'immortal' cancers are also found in their respective pre-cancerous lesions, which suggests that mouth cancer forms in different ways," said lead researcher Professor Paul Harrison. "The data we collected provide strong evidence for the first time that some mouth cancer tumors are more aggressive than others and are therefore linked to poorer patient survival. We hope in the future that these findings will allow us to discover early on who needs urgent treatment and possibly offer new methods of preventing the disease."
Commenting on the findings, Professor John Toy, medical director at Cancer Research UK, said, "Cases of mouth cancer in the UK have risen by a quarter over the past 10 years so these are valuable findings that will help scientists gain a clearer understanding the ways the disease can develop and progress."