By Tang Yew Chung
June 15, 2011


(June 15, 2011) – In a study published recently in Cancer Research, researchers from China, Singapore, and the United States have found a protein that could help predict the spread of the head and neck cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). Apart from being a useful prognostic indicator, the finding could also pave the way for the development of novel treatment strategies to prevent the spread of the disease.

NPC is one of the most malignant tumors in southern China and Southeast Asia with incidence rates nearly 25 times that of most of the rest of the world. It is also the most common cancer originating in the nasopharynx area of the throat and has the highest metastasis rate among head and neck cancers. NPC spreads so fast that by the time most patients are diagnosed, the disease has usually spread to lymph nodes or even to distant organs such as the liver.

By studying tumor samples from 263 NPC patients diagnosed at the Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Center (SYSUCC) in Guangzhou, China, the researchers found that higher levels of the protein serglycin correlated with an unfavorable prognosis and the increased likelihood of metastasis. The researchers also found that the cancer's capacity to spread could be reduced by blocking the secretion of serglycin, showing that it may be a potential therapeutic target to stop NPC metastasis.

The senior author of the study, Dr Qian Chao-Nan, who is a professor and assistant director at SYSUCC, said:

"Serglycin is clearly important to metastasis in NPC, but there are other factors as well. Finding genes that cooperate with Serglycin that are also involved in metastasis could result in a comprehensive approach to treat NPC, and potentially help it from spreading."