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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018


Phenotyping may lead to more tailored treatment for head and neck cancer

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Fourth-year medical student Wesley Stepp, PhD, has developed a testing method to predict aggressiveness of head and neck cancers and help physicians determine the ideal treatment regimen.


Research led by UNC School of Medicine student Wesley Stepp, PhD, shows how more detailed genetic testing of head and neck tumors could lead to more personalized treatments for patients.

“Years ago, researchers created very big diagnostic buckets based on one biomarker,” Stepp said. “And I thought there must actually be many smaller buckets because our testing was not sensitive enough.”

Presently, head and neck cancers have been grouped into two categories based on the presence of p16, a tumor suppressor protein. Tumors found positive for p16 are less aggressive than those without it, and they are treated accordingly, often with clinical trials using lower doses of radiotherapy.

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