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According to an article recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) can help determine a head and neck cancer patient’s response to the chemotherapy agent Platinol® (cisplatin).

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 11,000 individuals in the United States will die of head and neck cancer in 2006. Head and neck cancer refers to several different types of cancers that begin in any region of the head or neck.

Platinol is a common chemotherapy agent for the treatment of head and neck cancers. Although effective, there are a significant portion of patients who do not respond to Platinol. Researchers are evaluating ways to identify which patients will respond to Platinol and which tend to not respond to Platinol.

Researchers from Toronto, Canada, recently conducted a clincial study to evaluate SNPs, or genetic variations, within genes that repair DNA among patients with advanced head and neck cancer. This study included 103 patients with advanced head and neck cancer who were treated with Platinol.

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  • Patients with one genetic variant in the DNA repair genes had greater survival than those without these genetic variants.
  • The presence of seven of these genetic variants confers a 175-fold benefit in survival compared to those with no variants.
  • Anticancer responses were increased by nearly three-fold among patients with these genetic variants compared to those without.

The researchers concluded that SNPs, or genetic variants, help to predict which patients with head and neck cancer will benefit from treatment with Platinol. These results add to a growing body of evidence that genetics will have an important role in individualizing therapy for patients with various types of cancers.

Patients with head and neck cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating genetics and associated outcomes for their disease.

Reference: Quintela-Fandino, Hitt R, Medina P, et al. DNA-Repair Gene Polymorphisms Predict Favorable Clinical Outcome Among Patients With Advanced Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck Treated With Cisplatin-Based Induction Chemotherapy. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2006;24:4333-4339.