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Head Neck. 2012 Jan;34(1):42-9. doi: 10.1002/hed.21699. Epub 2011 Feb 14.

Frequency of cells expressing CD44, a head and neck cancer stem cell marker: correlation with tumor aggressiveness.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Stanford University Medical Center, California.



We previously identified by flow cytometry a Lineage-CD44+ (Lin-CD44+) subpopulation of cells with cancer stem cell properties in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We now correlate clinical and histologic factors with Lin-CD44+ cell frequency.


The study included 31 patients with HNSCC, of whom 87% had stage IV disease. The frequency of Lin-CD44+ cells and the success of xenografting patient tumors in mice were correlated with clinical and pathologic data.


The mean frequency of Lin-CD44+ cells was 25% (0.4%-81%). It was 36% in patients who had recurrence versus 15% for those without recurrence (p = .04). Successful xenograft implantation occurred in 53%. Seventy-five percent of patients with successful xenografts had recurrence versus 21% of patients with unsuccessful xenografts (p = .003).


Successful xenograft implantation and a high frequency of Lin-CD44+ cells correlate with known poor prognostic factors such as advanced T classification and recurrence. These findings may support the stem cell concept in HNSCC.

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