, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 53-76

Molecular and cellular biomarkers for field cancerization and multistep process in head and neck tumorigenesis

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One way to explain the development of head and neck cancer is through the theories of field cancerization, i.e., the exposure of an entire field of tissue to repeated carcinogenic insult, and multistep process, i.e., development of multiple cancers in a predisposed field through a series of recognizable states. Recent molecular genetic studies of histologically normal and prealignant epithelia of high-risk subjects and studies of malignant tumors in aerodigestive tract epithelia have identified a continuum of accumulated specific genetic alterations that possibly occur during the clonal evolution of tumors, namely, during the multistep process. Second primary or multiple primary tumors arise in the same fields as independent clones, with similar but unique molecular genetic and/or cellular alterations. Consequently, the assessment of these genetic and phenotypic alterations has been integrated into clinical chemoprevention trials in an effort to identify biomarkers that are also risk predictors and intermediate end points. This review covers candidate biomarkers of the processes of field cancerization and multistep tumor development in aerodigestive tract epithelia, including general and specific genetic markers, proliferation markers, and squamous differentiation markers.