Background: Current management strategies for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) rely on an understanding of the natural history of the disease, along with the use of prognostic factors to guide selection of appropriate treatment. However, it is recognized that tumor heterogeneity limits the reliable use of currently available prognostic markers. With the evolving understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of human malignancies, there has been much interest in determining whether specific molecular changes in HNSCC might guide treatment decisions.
Methods: A literature review of potential molecular markers relevant to HNSCC was undertaken and evaluated. It is evident that the published information is promising but, oftentimes, limited by a scarcity of large, uniformly staged and treated patients, from which the value of novel molecular markers can be assessed.
Results: On the basis of the review of more than 100 articles, some of the emerging molecular markers that might provide independent prognostic information include epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha), cyclin D1, and p53. This review will discuss the current status of these molecular factors and consequent implications for novel therapeutic approaches for patients with HNSCC.
Conclusion: With the evolving understanding that human malignancies have developed and progressed on the basis of accumulated molecular abnormalities, there is an existing body of work trying to determine whether such abnormalities can predict clinical behavior of HNSCC. Such studies have to be conducted rigorously to derive useful information. Nevertheless, the role of such molecular markers, and the possibility to exploit them for therapeutic gain, is already at the horizon.