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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998 Jul 1;90(13):972-7.

Distinguishing second primary tumors from lung metastases in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA.



In patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in the lung represents either another primary tumor or a metastasis. This distinction greatly influences patient prognosis and could guide treatment strategies, but the nature of a solitary lung nodule is often difficult to discern by use of standard clinical and histologic parameters. Comparison of genetic alterations in the tumors could resolve this dilemma.


We compared paired tumors from 16 patients with HNSCC and a solitary lung SCC for loss (i.e., deletion) of loci on chromosomal arms 3p and 9p. Losses at these loci occur early during neoplastic transformation of the respiratory tract. DNA from microdissected tumors and normal tissues was subjected to polymerase chain reaction-based microsatellite analysis. An effort was also made to distinguish primary lung cancers from lung metastases on the basis of clinical and histopathologic features.


In most cases, comparison of genetic alterations clarified the relationship between the lung tumor and the primary HNSCC. The paired tumors from 10 patients had concordant patterns of loss at all loci suggesting metastatic spread, whereas three paired tumors had discordant patterns of loss at all loci suggesting independent tumor origin. These observations were supported by the clinical and pathologic findings.


In patients with HNSCC and a solitary SCC in the lung, microsatellite analysis provides a rapid genetic approach for discerning clonal relationships. In such patients, we found that a solitary SCC in the lung more likely represents a metastasis than an independent lung cancer. Microsatellite analysis could potentially be applied to any patient with multiple tumors, where tumor relationships are not clear on clinical, radiographic, or even histopathologic grounds.

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