Mayo Clinic Researchers Discovered a New Type of Cancer

First Posted: Jun 10, 2014 06:21 PM EDT

Sinonasal sarcoma (SNS) is a rare malignant tumor that forms in the nasal structures and it primarily affects women. This new form of cancer could pose surgery problems because it can spread throughout the entire face if not detected early.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic discovered that when the genes PAX3 and MAML3 manage to combine, the result is a chimera that causes biphenotypic sinonasal sarcoma. An operation to remove this malignant tumor would require a disfiguring facial surgery, but there may exist some cancer drugs that can target it.

The tumor begins in the nose and has the potential of spreading toward the rest of the face, typically in an outward fashion from each side of the nostrils. The research on this cancer began in 2004, when two Mayo Clinic pathologists noticed something bizarre about a tumor sample they were examining. They began collecting more data on the cancer in 2009 after they had seen in a few more times. By 2012 they published their discovery.

"It's unusual that a condition or disease is recognized, subsequently studied in numerous patients, and then genetically characterized all at one place," said Dr. Andre Oliveira, who subspecializes in the molecular genetics of sarcomas, in this news release. "Usually these things happen over a longer period of time and involve separate investigators and institutions."

The Mayo Clinic's most recent study in SNS, "Recurrent PAX3-MAML3 fusion in biphenotypic sinonasal sarcoma," was published in the journal Nature Genetics. Past medical records at the Mayo Clinic revealed that a patient actually had this form of cancer back in 1956. When Dr. Oliveira found the identical description in the file, he located the original patient's tumor samples from 1956 at the clinic's bio repositories.

The researchers are particularly interested in this cancer's potential as a disease model. Its rare makeup could lead to a better understanding of other cancer's such as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma - a common cancer found in children - that has some similarities to the PAX3-MAML3 chimera.

The study conducted on sinonasal sarcoma was supported by the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health, and you can read more about it here.

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