Ohio State University Logo Analyzing tumor cells within the blood of head and neck cancer patients may reveal outcome of the disease. A recent study led by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center suggests that presence of tumor cells in the circulating blood of patients with squamous cell cancer of the head and neck anticipates disease recurrence and reduced survival. Worse outcome seemingly occurs when an increased number of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are found.

The study was triggered on 48 patients who previously underwent surgical intervention for squamous cell cancer of the head and neck, 35 that smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 15 years, and half of them were moderate to heavy alcohol consumers. Smoking and alcohol consumption are known to be a contributing risk factor for developing head and neck cancers. It was mentioned that individuals not using either can also develop the disease. Scientists kept a tab on the patients for an average of 19 months after surgery.

During the study, investigators did not find any instances of cancer recurrence or disease-related mortality among patients with no CTCs. An association between an increasing number of CTCs and a worse prognosis appeared. Dr. Kris Jatana, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and colleagues were able to detect CTCs after excluding normal cells and eliminating all the red blood cells. Then healthy white blood cells were removed with the help of magnetic nanoparticles. The remaining abnormal cells were ultimately stained and manually counted.

The study is published in the December issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.