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Mouthrinse for human papillomavirus DNA may be biomarker in head and neck cancer

BALTIMORE, U.S.: In a recent study, scientists from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated whether a mouthrinse to detect human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA might be associated with helping to predict risk of recurrence and death in head and neck squamous cell cancer. As a result of the interesting findings, the team believes that more research is needed, but that the method has considerable promise as a biomarker for treatment response and detection of progression risk.

In the study, the researchers examined 396 adults with a median age of 59 who had head and neck squamous cell cancer of the mouth or throat. Of the 369 patients, 202 had HPV-positive cancers, 170 had newly diagnosed oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer and 217 had head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

To collect the data needed, the team took oral rinse samples at diagnosis and at completion of primary therapy. Weekly oral rinse samples were also collected during radiotherapy. DNA from purified tumor and oral rinse samples were evaluated for 37 HPV types, and type-specific real-time polymerase chain reaction was used to quantify viral load.

According to the results, HPV DNA identical in type to that found in the tumor was detectable in oral rinses at diagnosis in 80% of the patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer. According to the team of researchers, persistent detection of HPV DNA after completion of primary therapy was significantly associated with the increased risk of cancer recurrence and death.

The study had a follow-up time of about two years and the researchers believe that they may have underestimated the association between the persistence of HPV and cancer recurrence. They state that more research is needed, but that the findings suggest HPV DNA may be a promising biomarker to understand cancer treatment response.

The study, titled “Association of oral human papillomavirus DNA persistence with cancer progression after primary treatment for oral cavity and oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma,” was published online on May 2, 2019, in JAMA Oncology, before inclusion in an issue.

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