Apoptotic capacity and risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck

Zhensheng Liu, Hongliang Liu, Peng Han, Fengqin Gao, Kristina R. Dahlstrom, Guojun Li, Kouros Owzar, Jose P. Zevallos, Erich M. Sturgis, Qingyi Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background Tobacco smoke and alcohol drinking are the major risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). Smoking and drinking cause DNA damage leading to apoptosis, and insufficient apoptotic capacity may favour development of cancer because of the dysfunction of removing damaged cells. In the present study, we investigated the association between camptothecin (CPT)-induced apoptotic capacity and risk of SCCHN in a North American population. Methods In a case–control study of 708 SCCHN patients and 685 matched cancer-free controls, we measured apoptotic capacity in cultured peripheral blood lymphocytes in response to in vitro exposure to CPT by using the flow cytometry–based method. Results We found that the mean level of apoptotic capacity in the cases (45.9 ± 23.3%) was significantly lower than that in the controls (49.0 ± 23.1%) (P = 0.002). When we used the median level of apoptotic capacity in the controls as the cutoff value for calculating adjusted odds ratios, subjects with a reduced apoptotic capacity had an increased risk (adjusted odds ratio = 1.42, 95% confidence interval = 1.13–1.78, P = 0.002), especially for those who were age ≥57 (1.73, 1.25–2.38, 0.0009), men (1.76, 1.36–2.27, <0.0001) and ever drinkers (1.67, 1.27–2.21, 0.0003), and these variables significantly interacted with apoptotic capacity (Pinteraction = 0.015, 0.005 and 0.009, respectively). A further fitted prediction model suggested that the inclusion of apoptotic capacity significantly improved in the prediction of SCCHN risk. Conclusion Individuals with a reduced CPT-induced apoptotic capacity may be at an increased risk of developing SCCHN, and apoptotic capacity may be a biomarker for susceptibility to SCCHN.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Apoptosis
  • Apoptotic capacity
  • Biomarker
  • CPT
  • Head and neck cancer


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