Head and Neck Cancer Stem Cell Research
Head and neck cancer stem cells were discovered in 2007 by scientists at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and Stanford University About 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year. These malignant tumors develop in mucous membranes that line the mouth, throat and sinuses. More than 90% of head and neck tumors are a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
Survival rates for head and neck cancer are about 50% and have not changed much in the last 50 years. This means that about half of people diagnosed with this disease will die from it within five years.
In 2007, a team of scientists from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and Stanford University identified cancer stem cells in tumors removed from patients with head and neck cancer. Scientists believe these stem cells are the "root cause" of cancer - the cells that drive its growth and are responsible for metastasis and resistance to therapy.
Because they were discovered so recently, less is known about head and neck cancer stem cells than breast cancer stem cells. Cancer Center researchers are studying head and neck cancer stem cells to learn how they work and how to kill them without harming normal cells. The goal is to develop new therapies that could help patients with head and neck cancer avoid the invasive surgery today's physicians must use to remove this type of cancer.