Promising Biomarkers in Head and Neck Cancer: The Most Clinically Important miRNAs

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Jul 26;23(15):8257. doi: 10.3390/ijms23158257.


Head and neck cancers (HNCs) comprise a heterogeneous group of tumors that extend from the oral cavity to the upper gastrointestinal tract. The principal etiologic factors for oral tumors include tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption, while human papillomavirus (HPV) infections have been accused of a high incidence of pharyngeal tumors. Accordingly, HPV detection has been extensively used to categorize carcinomas of the head and neck. The diverse nature of HNC highlights the necessity for novel, sensitive, and precise biomarkers for the prompt diagnosis of the disease, its successful monitoring, and the timely prognosis of patient clinical outcomes. In this context, the identification of certain microRNAs (miRNAs) and/or the detection of alterations in their expression patterns, in a variety of somatic fluids and tissues, could serve as valuable biomarkers for precision oncology. In the present review, we summarize some of the most frequently studied miRNAs (including miR-21, -375, -99, -34a, -200, -31, -125a/b, -196a/b, -9, -181a, -155, -146a, -23a, -16, -29, and let-7), their role as biomarkers, and their implication in HNC pathogenesis. Moreover, we designate the potential of given miRNAs and miRNA signatures as novel diagnostic and prognostic tools for successful patient stratification. Finally, we discuss the currently ongoing clinical trials that aim to identify the diagnostic, prognostic, or therapeutic utility of miRNAs in HNC.

Keywords: HNC; HPV; biomarkers; clinical trials; miRNAs; signatures.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • MicroRNAs* / metabolism
  • Papillomavirus Infections*
  • Precision Medicine


  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MicroRNAs