Genetic Risk Factor for Smoking-Related Head and Neck Cancer Discovered

August 16, 2010
John D. Zoidis, MD

OBTN, March 2007, Volume 1, Issue 2

A simple blood test may soon be able to identify persons at risk for developing smoking-related head and neck cancer.

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Genetic Risk Factor for Smoking-Related Head and Neck Cancer Discovered

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simple blood test may soon be able to identify persons at risk for developing smoking-related head and neck cancer. In a recent study published in Cancer Research by Paz-Elizur and colleagues, activity of the DNA-repair enzyme 8-oxoguanine

DNA glycosylase 1 (OGG1) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 37 cases with squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) was significantly lower than that in 93 control gender and age-matched control subjects. Upon retesting of OGG activity 3 to 4 years after diagnosis and successful treatment of 18 individuals who recovered from the disease, OGG activity values were found to be similar to those determined at diagnosis, suggesting that reduced OGG activity was not caused by the disease itself.

In their study, Dr. Paz-Elizur and colleagues focused on the DNA repair enzyme OGG1, for which they had previously developed

a blood test to measure activity levels. By comparing OGG1 activity in healthy people with those in patients with SCCHN, the research team found that the test was able to single out those with a heightened risk of this type of cancer: weak levels were correlated with greater risk. According to Prof. Zvi Livneh, a co-author of the study, a smoker with low OGG1 activity is 70 times more likely to develop head and neck cancer than a nonsmoker with normal OGG1 levels.

These findings support those of a previous study by the group in which low OGG1 activity was found to be an indicator of elevated risk for lung cancer, a disease also caused by smoking. Together, these studies suggest that the combination of low OGG1 activity and smoking can profoundly increase a person’s chances of developing a smoking-related cancer.

If these results are confirmed in additional epidemiologic studies, screening of smokers for low OGG1 activity might one day be

used as a strategy in the prevention of lung cancer and SCCHN.