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Biomarker May Predict HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Cancer

Biomarker May Predict HPV Related Oropharyngeal Cancer Biomarker May Predict HPV Related Oropharyngeal Cancer New research gives hope to the possibility that a biomarker obtained through a simple blood draw may be able to pinpoint individuals at greatest risk

Biomarker May Predict HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Cancer


Biomarker May Predict HPV-Related Oropharyngeal Cancer

New research gives hope to the possibility that a biomarker obtained through a simple blood draw may be able to pinpoint individuals at greatest risk of developing human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oropharyngeal cancer. The findings are significant, as it is estimated that 60% of oropharyngeal cancer cases are caused by HPV type 16 (HPV16) infection.

In a study conducted at the National Cancer Institute (a branch of the National Institutes of Health or NIH), in collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, one in three individuals with oropharyngeal cancer presented with antibodies to HPV. In comparison, just 1% of individuals without cancer were found to have HPV antibodies. The findings were published July 1 online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Increased HPV infection, specifically HPV16, has surpassed tobacco use and alcohol consumption as the main trigger for oropharyngeal cancer—the portion of the throat that contains the back of the tongue, soft palate, and tonsils. Previous studies of patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer found antibodies to HPV16 E6 (a viral gene that contributes to cancer formation) in their blood.

The possibility that HPV16 E6 antibodies may be detected in an individual’s blood up to a decade prior to the cancer becoming clinically detectable is groundbreaking. This discovery was revealed during a long-term study of more than 500,000 healthy adults in the “European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study,” who all provided blood samples at the start of the project. Researchers were then able to analyze the blood of 135 subjects who developed oropharyngeal cancer over the next 13 years. The blood of 1,600 control individuals who did not develop cancer of the oropharynx was also analyzed. Among these subjects, HPV16 E6 antibodies were found in 35% of individuals with cancer, but just 1% of individuals who remained cancer free.

NIH scientists call the findings premature, but are encouraged by a potential biomarker that gives the health care field hope for improved oropharyngeal cancer survival rates. Further studies are needed, the group concluded, from which a screening tool may be developed.

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