Extracellular miRNAs as Biomarkers of Head and Neck Cancer Progression and Metastasis

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 27;20(19):4799. doi: 10.3390/ijms20194799.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) contribute to over 300,000 deaths every year worldwide. Although the survival rates have improved in some groups of patients, mostly due to new treatment options and the increasing percentage of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers, local recurrences and second primary tumors remain a great challenge for the clinicians. Presently, there is no biomarker for patient surveillance that could help identify patients with HNSCC that are more likely to experience a relapse or early progression, potentially requiring closer follow-up or salvage treatment. MicoRNAs (miRNAs) are non-coding RNA molecules that posttranscriptionally modulate gene expression. They are highly stable and their level can be measured in biofluids including serum, plasma, and saliva, enabling quick results and allowing for repeated analysis during and after the completion of therapy. This has cemented the role of miRNAs as biomarkers with a huge potential in oncology. Since altered miRNA expression was described in HNSCC and many miRNAs play a role in radio- and chemotherapy resistance, cancer progression, and metastasis, they can be utilized as biomarkers of these phenomena. This review outlines recent discoveries in the field of extracellular miRNA-based biomarkers of HNSCC progression and metastasis, with a special focus on HPV-related cancers and radioresistance.

Keywords: HPV; biomarker; extracellular; head and neck cancer; miRNAs; plasma; radioresistance; saliva; serum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor*
  • Cell Transformation, Viral / genetics
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Disease Progression
  • Extracellular Space
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / radiation effects
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Papillomavirus Infections / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Radiotherapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs