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Eur J Cancer B Oral Oncol. 1993 Apr;29B(2):107-12.

Molecular lesions in human oral cancer: the Indian scene.

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Cell and Developmental Pathology Division, Cancer Research Institute, Bombay, India.


Carcinogenesis is a multi-step process including aberrant expression of two interacting classes of genes--oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes. With recent technological advances, it is feasible to identify the various molecular lesions underlying the different stages of neoplasia. Squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck, although representing 2-4% of the malignancies in the West, comprise a large fraction (40%) of total cancers in India, posing a major health problem. Further, epidemiological and experimental evidence unequivocally confirms a causal association between tobacco chewing habit, highly prevalent in India, and oral cancers. Thus, the oral cancers offer an excellent in vivo system for the study of the environmental tobacco-carcinogen induced molecular alterations in the malignancy, and associated premalignant lesions such as leukoplakia. With a view to elucidating the molecular lesions involving oncogenes in oral carcinogenesis, we have investigated myc/ras/EGF-R activation by amplification, point mutation, gene rearrangement and allelic losses. Further, a functionally activated potent transforming gene was detected in a NIH3T3 transfection/tumorigenicity assay, unrelated to myc/ras/EGF-R. Studies on the involvement of p53 gene in oral cancer, indicates p53 allelic loss as an event observed in leukoplakia and tumour tissues. Advanced oral cancer stages demonstrate cumulative molecular aberrations, with greater than 95% samples showing oncogene involvement, thus indicating a multi-step process of oral carcinogenesis. The review presents a comparative picture of the oral malignancies seen in Western countries and India, significance of molecular lesions and future perspectives of oncogenes and tumour suppressor gene involvement in oral cancer.

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