Another way to diagnose head, neck cancer

Washington: It is quite common that head and neck cancers are often diagnosed late.

However, with the new research conducted in Germany, it is now possible to detect and diagnose the oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs), most common head and neck cancers, at an earlier stage.

The researchers, who tested mechanical properties of OSCC cells, found them to be ‘softer’ than benign cells.

Lead authors Josef Kas and Torsten W. Remmerbach said, “Early diagnosis and treatment of OSCCs is essential to enabling recovery. But in up to 60 percent of cases, the diagnosis is late because the growth has not been recognised, or has been mistaken as harmless.”

The research team examined if cells’ mechanical properties could be used as a marker for malignancy. As well as being softer than benign cells, the team saw that cancer cells exhibited a faster contraction than their benign counterparts when testing the relaxation behaviour after stress release.

Remmerbach added, “This new way of drawing distinction between malignant and benign cells could enable an early confirmation of cancer diagnoses, by testing cell samples of suspect oral lesions.”

The researchers used an optical stretcher to analyse the properties of the cells. Their experiments revealed that cells of primary OSCCs were deformed by 2.9 percent, rendering them softer than cells of the healthy mucosa, which were deformed only by 1.9 percent.

Co-author Jorg Schnauß said, “What we found also has implications for the way studies in cancer research are carried out. Many studies are performed with cancer cell lines rather than primary cells. When comparing the mechanical properties of both, our results showed that longtime culturing leads to softening of cells.

“This softening in the culturing process could potentially affect the significance of test results. Because of that, we suggest that future research uses primary cells to ensure accuracy.”

The study appears in the journal Convergent Science Physical Oncology.