Despite diagnostic and therapeutic advances, the 5-year survival rate of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) remains between 70-80% due to recurrences and secondary metastases to cervical lymph nodes. It is difficult to find these recurrences and metastases postoperatively, thus, careful follow-up is recommended. Cytokeratins (CKs) are intermediate filaments of the cytoskeleton and candidate prognostic biomarkers for OSCC, as they are overexpressed in OSCC compared with normal mucosa. The aim of the present study was to determine the relative levels of occurrence of 3 CK mRNA (CK17, CK19, CK20) transcripts in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) using reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The study comprised preand post-operative PBMC samples from 19 OSCC patients. In the good-prognosis group, 10 of 13 patients demonstrated reduced CK17 mRNA expression post-operatively, compared with pre-operative samples, conversely, only 3 of 6 patients in the poor-prognosis group had reduced post-operative CK17 mRNA expression. This difference was statistically significant (P<0.01). The disease-free survival rate of the group with reduced post-operative CK17 mRNA expression was significantly increased compared with the elevated CK17 mRNA group (P<0.01); however, the overall survival rates of the two groups were not significantly different. Neither CK19 mRNA nor CK20 mRNA were significantly expressed in the PBMC of OSCC patients. Overall, CK17 mRNA expression may be a useful prognostic biomarker for OSCC.
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