Inactivation of tumor suppressor genes, including p53 and retinoblastoma (Rb), are commonly found in all cancers, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Alterations at either p53 or Rb, however, are only weakly associated with tumor aggressiveness. In many cancers loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at multiple loci is associated with decreased survival. The polymerase chain reaction and highly informative microsatellite markers were used to compare DNA from matched sets of 63 head and neck squamous cell cancers and normal tissue for LOH at the p53 and Rb loci. At p53, 50 were informative, with LOH occurring in 19 (38%). Of the 57 that were informative at Rb, LOH occurred in 21 (37%). Of the 46 that were informative at both p53 and Rb, LOH occurred in 10 (22%) at both loci. When LOH for p53 and Rb individually was compared to stage, differentiation, and survival, there was no correlation. However, the patients with LOH at both loci had a significantly poorer survival (P = .009). This strongly supports the contention that simultaneous alterations of these two tumor suppressor genes favor tumor aggressiveness and can be used as a prognostic indicator.
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