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Research at Case Western Reserve looks to accurately identify aggressive head and neck cancers

A Case Western Reserve-led research team will analyze computerized images of tissue samples for patterns which could become "biomarkers," or predictors, for determining relative risk for recurrence in one particularly common type of head and neck cancers, according to the university.
Those tumors, known as oropharyngeal cancers, occur primarily at the base of the tongue and in the tonsils, according to the announcement.
 
Currently, however, oncologists tend to treat all of these tumors with the same aggressive level of therapy. This is the case even though many of the oropharyngeal tumors which are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) tend to have favorable outcome-regardless of treatment-while another subset of the tumors progress and metastasize, or spread.
 
"Right now, it's a one-size-fits-all therapy for all of these patients with HPV head and neck cancers," said Anant Madabhushi said in the announcement. Madabhushi is  the F. Alex Nason Professor II of Biomedical Engineering, founding director of the CCIPD at the Case School of Engineering and primary investigator in the new research and a BMES member.

"There are currently very few validated biomarkers and approaches that are accurate enough to be able to identify which of these cancers are more aggressive or which ones are less aggressive," he said. "That has limited the ability of clinicians to even hold clinical trials to find out if they can de-escalate therapy for some of these patients-or who needs more aggressive therapy."
 
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently awarded a $3.15 million, five-year academic-industry partnership grant to Madabhushi and his team to pursue the research and build toward establishing those clinical trials.
 

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