Unraveling the molecular genetics of head and neck cancer through genome-wide approaches
Genetic Predisposition to Disease
The past decade has seen an unprecedented increase in our understanding of the biology and etiology of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). Genome-wide sequencing projects have identified a number of recurrently mutated genes, including unexpected alterations in the NOTCH pathway and chromatin related genes. Gene-expression profiling has identified 4 distinct genetic subtypes which show some parallels to lung squamous cell carcinoma biology. The identification of the human papilloma virus as one causative agent in a subset of oropharyngeal cancers and their association with a favorable prognosis has opened up avenues for new therapeutic strategies. The expanding knowledge of the underlying molecular abnormalities in this once very poorly understood cancer should allow for increasingly rational clinical trial design and improved patient outcomes.