Head and Neck Cancers Coverage from Every Angle
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Head and Neck Cancer’s Genetic Relationship to Other Cancers

By: Celeste L. Dixon
Posted: Monday, April 15, 2019

Utilizing the latest sophisticated statistical models and wide-ranging genetic data, a research team’s study results reveal that numerous “solid tumors arising across tissues share in part a common germline genetic basis,” wrote Xia Jiang, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues. They found, among others, a significant association between head/neck and lung cancers and a nominally significant association between head/neck and prostate cancers.

The team accessed the database of summary statistics from the largest-to-date European ancestry genome-wide association study (GWAS) of head/neck, colorectal, ovarian, breast, lung, and prostate cancers. The average sample size was 49,369 cases and 50,219 controls per cancer. The work was published in Nature Communications. 

The significant GWAS loci for a particular cancer, such as head/neck cancer, explained most of its heritability. In some cancers, significant GWAS loci of other cancers also contributed a nontrivial part of its heritability, and significant lung cancer GWAS loci explained 10% heritability of head/neck cancer. However, the researchers concluded that “common single-nucleotide polymorphisms can almost entirely explain the classical heritability of head/neck cancer.”

In addition, Dr. Jiang and co-investigators sought to find genetic correlations that might exist between noncancer traits and cancer. They discovered, not too surprisingly, strong positive genetic correlations between smoking and head/neck cancer and between smoking and lung cancer.

Dr. Jiang and colleagues believe their results provide direction for future cross-cancer studies to generate insights into the biologic mechanisms underlying cancer development and etiology. Further work that continues to identify new susceptibility loci “could help our understanding of disease development, improve [the] prediction power of genetic risk scores, and hence contribute to screening and personalized risk prediction,” they wrote.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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