Head and Neck Cancer : Factors Affecting Tumour Growth

Abstract: Head and neck cancer is the fifth most common cancer worldwide with an estimated annual global incidence of over 500 000 cases. These malignant tumours develop in the mucosal linings of the upper respiratory tract or in the salivary glands. The most common sites are in the oral cavity and larynx. Treatment modalities comprising surgery and chemoradiotherapy have improved significantly during the last 20 years, but not the long-term survival of patients. The aim of this thesis was to study the different factors affecting tumour growth in head and neck cancer that may have clinical implications in the future. Factors involving apoptosis, cell cycle activity, inflammation, and enzyme activity were of special interest.The results of the thesis indicate that patients with malignant salivary gland tumours having the lowest level of actively replicating cells have the best prognosis. The largest amount of replicating cells in tongue cancer specimens was found in the peripheral areas of tumour nests. Metallothionein, a protein that can hinder apoptosis, was found in excess in the same areas, whereas apoptosis activity was considerably lower. Taken together, these results indicate that the most aggressive cancer cells are found in the peripheral areas of tumours where apoptosis may be hindered.The expression of the death receptor Fas was higher in tongue cancer specimens than in normal mucosa. The expression of this receptor was studied further in two cell lines established from oral cancers. When a low dose of cisplatin was added to cell cultures, the Fas expression was enhanced in both cell lines and, furthermore, the Fas-induced apoptosis was increased in one of the cell lines. The results show that a common chemotherapeutic drug given in a low, less toxic dose may enhance receptor-mediated apoptosis of cancer cells.Malignant solid tumours are often distinguished by an increased proteolytic activity resulting in invasive growth, neo-angiogenesis, and metastases. This activity is conducted by enzymes that are secreted from tumour cells, or from normal cells in the tumour microenvironment. The regulation of enzyme secretion may be mediated by cytokines, small signalling molecules also present in cancer tissue. The results of this thesis show that two cytokines can synergistically induce enzyme secretion (matrix metalloproteinase-1 and -9) from oral cancer cells. Cytokine tumour necrosis factor-alpha and hepatocyte growth factor added alone to cell cultures strongly stimulated secretion of these enzymes. Thus, the tested cytokines, which are commonly secreted by fibroblasts and immune cells, may promote tumour growth.This thesis has contributed to an increased understanding of factors affecting tumour growth in head and neck cancer. The upcoming cancer therapies will be based on the increasing knowledge of these and other aberrant cellular mechanisms that may vary between different cancer forms.