Paolo Boscolo-Rizzo 1 , Maria Cristina Da Mosto 1 , Enrica Rampazzo 2 , Silvia Giunco 2 , Annarosa Del Mistro 3 , Anna Menegaldo 1 , Lorena Baboci 3 , Monica Mantovani 1 , Giancarlo Tirelli 4 , Anita De Rossi , 2 , 3
8 August 2016
Strongly associated with tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a frequently lethal, heterogeneous disease whose pathogenesis is a multistep and multifactorial process involving genetic and epigenetic events. The majority of HNSCC patients present with locoregional advanced stage disease and are treated with combined modality strategies that can markedly impair quality of life and elicit unpredictable results. A large fraction of those who undergo locoregional treatment and achieve a complete response later develop locoregional recurrences or second field tumors. Biomarkers that are thus able to stratify risk and enable clinicians to tailor treatment plans and to personalize post-therapeutic surveillance strategies are highly desirable. To date, only HPV status is considered a reliable independent predictor of treatment response and survival in patients with HNSCC arising from the oropharyngeal site. Recent studies suggest that telomere attrition, which may be an early event in human carcinogenesis, and telomerase activation, which is detected in up to 90 % of malignancies, could be potential markers of cancer risk and disease outcome. This review examines the current state of knowledge on and discusses the implications linked to telomere dysfunction and telomerase activation in the development and clinical outcome of HNSCC.