Head and neck cancer (HNC) accounts for more than 330,000 cancer deaths annually worldwide. Despite late diagnosis being a major factor contributing to HNC mortality, no satisfactory biomarkers exist for early disease detection. Cytoplasmic gelsolin (cGSN) was discovered to predict disease progression in HNC and other malignancies, and circulating plasma gelsolin (pGSN) levels are significantly correlated with infectious and inflammatory disease prognoses. Here, the plasma levels of five candidate biomarkers (circulating pGSN, squamous cell carcinoma antigen, cytokeratin 19 fragment, soluble Fas, and soluble Fas ligand (sFasL)) in 202 patients with HNC and 45 healthy controls were measured using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or Millipore cancer multiplex assay. The results demonstrated that circulating pGSN levels were significantly lower in patients with HNC than in healthy controls. Moreover, circulating pGSN outperformed other candidate biomarkers as an independent diagnostic biomarker of HNC in both sensitivity (82.7%) and specificity (95.6%). Receiver operating characteristic curves indicated that combined pGSN and sFasL levels further augmented this sensitivity (90.6%) for early disease detection. Moreover, higher pGSN levels predicted improved prognosis at both 5-year overall survival and progression-free survival. In conclusion, circulating pGSN could be an independent predictor of favorable clinical outcomes and a novel biomarker for the early HNC detection in combination with sFasL.
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