MicroRNAs (miRs) are expected to serve as prognostic tools for cancer. However, many miRs have been reported as prognostic markers of recurrence or metastasis in oral squamous cell carcinoma patients. We aimed to determine the prognostic markers in early-stage tongue squamous cell carcinoma (TSCC). Based on previous studies, we hypothesized that miR-10a, 10b, 196a-5p, 196a-3p, and 196b were prognostic markers and we retrospectively performed miR expression analyses using formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded sections of surgical specimens. Total RNA was isolated from cancer tissues and adjacent normal tissue as control, and samples were collected by laser-capture microdissection. After cDNA synthesis, reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed. Statistical analyses for patient clinicopathological characteristics, recurrence/metastasis, and survival rates were performed to discern their relationships with miR expression levels, and the 2-ΔΔCq method was used. miR-196a-5p levels were significantly upregulated in early-stage TSCC, particularly in the lymph node metastasis (LNM) group. The LNM-free survival rate in the low miR-196a-5p ΔΔCq value regulation group was found to be lower than that in the high ΔΔCq value regulation group (P=0.0079). Receiver operating characteristic analysis of ΔΔCq values revealed that miR-196a-5p had a P-value=0.0025, area under the curve=0.740, and a cut-off value=-0.875 for distinguishing LNM. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine LNM-related miRs in early-stage TSCC as well as miRs and 'delayed LNM' in head and neck cancer. miR-196a-5p upregulation may predict delayed LNM. Our data serve as a foundation for future studies to evaluate miR levels and facilitate the prediction of delayed LNM during early-stage TSCC, which prevent metastasis when combined with close follow-up and aggressive adjuvant therapy or elective neck dissection. Moreover, our data will serve as a foundation for future studies to evaluate whether miR-196a-5p can serve as a therapeutic marker for preventing metastasis.
Keywords: lymph node metastasis; miR-196a; microRNA; oral cavity; prognostic marker; regional recurrence; squamous cell carcinoma; tongue.