An overactive protein in mouth cancer encourages tumours to grow fast and scientists claim that the protein will help them to find an effective treatment for the disease.
Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered FRMD4A, a protein that is overactive among mouth cancer patients. They claim that just deactivating the protein will help save many lives.
A study conducted on mice revealed that when FRMD4A protein is turned on, it helps the cancer cells to group and stick together, but when the protein is deactivated the stickiness of the cell is lost and ultimately it causes cancer cells to die.
Scientists have already found some potential drugs that could help them deactivate the protein. "What's really exciting about this research is that we already have potential drugs that can be used to target this protein or compensate for the effects that it is having," said Dr Stephen Goldie, researcher at Cancer Research UK, in a statement.
"These drugs could offer new options to patients where surgery and chemotherapy have not worked or could be used alongside them. We now need to start trials with these treatments, but we hope this could make a real difference to people with mouth cancer in the future," he added.
Mouth cancer starts anywhere in the oral cavity area like in the cheek lining area, the floor of the mouth, gums or the roof of the mouth (palate).
Symptoms of this cancer are chewing problems, mouth sores, speech difficulty, swallowing difficulty and swollen lymph nodes in the neck and weight loss, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
Mouth cancer is the 12th most common cancer among men in the UK. Mouth cancer incidence is strongly related to age, though the patterns by age are quite different for men and women. Age-specific incidence rates increase sharply from around age 45 and peak at ages 60-69, before falling in the over-70s in men. In women, mouth cancer occurs in and around 45 and it peaks in the 80s.
In 2009, nearly 6,000 people were diagnosed with mouth cancer in the UK. Among them, 4,097 (66%) were men and 2,139 (34%) were women, according to the Cancer Research UK report.
Only around 50 per cent of people with this type of cancer survive for at least five years. But now there is hope as scientists have found that the FRMD4A protein plays a major role in mouth cancer. They claim that they have to develop some more drugs that could help them deactivate the protein.
"We hope that our approach would be more effective and specific than treating the pathway that FRMD4A is involved in, but we now need to test new potential drugs to see if this will work in patients," said Dr Goldie.
"This research offers a number of approaches that we can now explore to help treat these cancers, including blocking the protein directly. These cancers often return and spread so it's vital we find new ways to treat them more effectively," said Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager, at Cancer Research UK, in a statement.