What Makes Squamous Cell Cancers Different? Genomics May Explain

New analytic tools and data use genetic signatures to help researchers distinguish the differences among various cancers.


Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) associated with smoking and human papillomavirus (HPV) have distinct genomic signatures, say researchers from a National Institutes of Health-supported study. That is one of the findings that may help distinguish SCCs from other cancers and point the way to new research and treatment.

The researchers used new analytic tools and data from the recently completed PanCancer Atlas to investigate similarities and differences among SCCs in the head and neck, lung, esophagus, cervix, and bladder. The PanCancer Atlas is a detailed analysis from a dataset containing molecular and clinical information on more than 10,000 tumors from 33 forms of cancer.

The researchers combined multiple platforms of genomic data from 1,400 SCC samples into integrated analyses, creating visual clusters of tumors based on genomic characteristics.

Squamous cell carcinomas had genomic features that set them apart from other cancers, the researchers found. The most common were gains or losses of the sections of certain chromosomes, making it likely that those regions harbor genes important to the development of SCCs.

The current study expands on research reported in 2014 and 2015, which compared genomic features of SCCs in head and neck cancer associated with smoking (a risk factor for head and neck cancer [HNC]) and HPV (a risk factor for cervical and some HNCs). Certain features were present in tumors associated with both, whereas others were exclusive to only 1 of the 2. The researchers also found similarities in the genomic characteristics of HNCs with lung cancers, some bladder cancers, and cervical cancer.

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