Is Perineural Invasion of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas Linked to Tobacco Consumption?

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Abstract

Perineural invasion (PNI) is an underrecognized path of cancer spread, and its causes and mechanisms are poorly understood. Recent research indicates a mutual attraction of neuronal and cancer cells, largely dependent on neurotrophic factors and their receptors. Interestingly, the release of neurotrophic factors occurs upon cigarette smoke/nicotine exposure in a dose-dependent manner, and serum levels correlate with current smoking, number of smoking years, and smoking severity. Among cell types capable of neurotrophic factors secretion are lung and oral fibroblasts. In our study of 178 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, tumors of current and former smokers showed PNI significantly more often than tumors of never smokers. Moreover, PNI was a marker for aggressive tumor growth. Surprisingly, PNI was more significant for survival than p16 status. Our study warrants further research on PNI in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma with special emphasis on the impact of tobacco consumption to identify suitable candidates for therapeutic interventions.

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