Activation of an aberrant glycosylation pathway in cancer cells can lead to expression of the onco-foetal sialyl-Tn (sTn) antigen. STn is a truncated O
-glycan containing a sialic acid α-2,6 linked to GalNAc α-O
-Ser/Thr and is associated with an adverse outcome and poor prognosis in cancer patients. The biosynthesis of the sTn antigen has been linked to the expression of the sialytransferase ST6GalNAc1, and also to mutations in and loss of heterozygosity of the COSMC
gene. sTn neo- or over-expression occurs in many types of epithelial cancer including gastric, colon, breast, lung, oesophageal, prostate and endometrial cancer. sTn is believed to be carried by a variety of glycoproteins and may influence protein function and be involved in tumour development. This review discusses how the role of sTn in cancer development and tumour cell invasiveness might be organ specific and occur through different mechanisms depending on each cancer type or subtype. As the sTn-antigen is expressed early in carcinogenesis targeting sTn in cancer may enable the targeting of tumours from the earliest stage.
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