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Alternative Biomarkers Found for Head and Neck Cancers

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 04 Oct 2012
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Human papillomavirus is a cause of some head and neck cancers, including oropharyngeal cancer, and patients with this viral-associated disease tend to have a better clinical outcome.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA positivity alone, particularly when assessed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods, is a poor biomarker for HPV-driven head and neck cancers, and alternative potential markers are needed.

Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (Heidelberg, Germany) analyzed 199 oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma specimens for HPV DNA, viral load, ribonucleic acid (RNA) expression patterns seen in cervical carcinomas and the HPV-targeted tumor suppressor protein p16. Their results indicate that the cervical cancer RNA expression pattern and viral load were associated with the lowest risk for death from oropharyngeal cancer. In contrast, a weaker association was found for samples that were HPV DNA-positive or that expressed the protein p16, which is associated with tumor suppression.

In a separate study, the investigators evaluated several biomarkers individually and in combination for overall survival among head and neck cancers including PCR-based and serological HPV DNA testing, and p16 immunohistochemistry. They found that the expression of two oncoproteins, E6 and E7, was associated with improved survival in oropharyngeal disease. In addition, HPV DNA positivity or p16 expression combined with E6 and E7 expression were also associated with enhanced survival. However, neither HPV DNA positivity nor expression of p16 alone yielded a similar result.

Dana Holzinger, PhD, the senior author of the study said, "Once standardized assays for these markers, applicable in routine clinical laboratories, are established, they will allow precise identification of patients with oropharyngeal cancer with or without HPV-driven cancers and, thus, will influence prognosis and potentially treatment decisions." The studies were published on September 18, 2012, in the journal Cancer Research.

Related Links:

German Cancer Research Center



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