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J Cell Physiol. 2019 Jun 17. doi: 10.1002/jcp.28963. [Epub ahead of print]

The molecular markers of cancer stem cells in head and neck tumors.

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Melbourne Dental School, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Head and neck cancer (HNC) is the six most common malignancy worldwide leading to more than 350,000 deaths annually. Despite recent advances in treatment modalities for these patients, there has been only a slight improvement of prognosis. As cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been implicated in tumor cell survival, progression, and response to therapy, the identification of this tumor subpopulation would have important therapeutic and prognostic implications. In this structured appraisal of the literature, Embase, PubMed, and Ovid were searched for publications that investigated CSC markers of HNC in humans. The search was conducted under the PRISMA guidelines with clear inclusion and exclusion criteria for articles published in the last two decades. The review process resulted in the identification of some key CSC-associated molecules such as CD44, ALDH1, CD133, Oct3/4, Nanog, and Sox2, although a single common CSC sorting marker could not be found. These biomarkers were identified in a range of HNCs but the most common one was squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), predominantly oral SCC. Patient cohorts were of variable size (3-195 individuals) and the most common technique used for detection was immunohistochemistry. Some of the molecules were associated with poor prognosis and may be able to inform the choice of appropriate treatment for these patients.


ALDH1; CD133; CD44; cancer stem cells; head and neck cancer; oral squamous cell carcinoma


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