A team of Indian scientists has identified five new genes that contribute to oral cancer, a disease linked to the consumption of tobacco and betel quid.
Researchers at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBG) at Kalyani, Bengal, and the cancer research wing of the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), Navi Mumbai, found the genes through genome scans of tumour tissues of 110 oral cancer patients.
A great breakthrough
Three of the five genes interfere with the body’s natural tumour-suppressing mechanisms, while the other two genes appear to increase the risk of cancer by influencing tobacco-consumption behaviour, possibly raising the levels of addiction to smoking or chewing tobacco.
NIBG director Partha Majumder and his team-mates have described their findings in a paper to be published tomorrow in the journal Nature Communications.
The scientists speculate that the alterations in these genes may increase the level of satisfaction that people derive from either smoking or chewing tobacco. And the heightened satisfaction may increase the degree of addiction and thus raise the risk of cancer.
A new avenue for research
The study has for the first time helped classify oral cancers into three types of molecular sub-groups depending on which sets of genes are altered.
“The characterisation of a large sample of an oral cancer sub-type common in India and rare in the West provides a unique contribution to the literature on head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (cancers),” wrote Carolyn Hutter, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institutes in the US.
While oral cancer primarily presents itself as tongue cancer in the West, it predominantly affects the lining of the mouth, lower gum and other regions of the oral cavity in India.