Oropharyngeal cancer patients who were found to have detectable traces of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16) in their saliva following cancer treatment are at an increased risk for recurrence, a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found.
The oropharynx is the area of the upper throat that includes the back of the tongue, the soft palate, the tonsils and the walls of the throat. Oropharyngeal cancer accounts for 2.8 percent of new cancers in the United States; it is often treated successfully with surgery.
In a small study, seven percent (five of 67) of oropharyngeal cancer patients who had HPV16 DNA in their oral rinse at the time of diagnosis were later found to still have traces of HPV16 DNA in their oral rinse following treatment. Of these, all developed a local recurrence of the cancer. The finding, believed to be the first of its kind, could lead to to new follow-up protocols for oropharyngeal cancer patients, the researchers say.
The study is published July 30 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
“It’s a very small number so we have to be somewhat cautious,” says Dr. Gypsyamber D’Souza, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a member of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The fact that all of the patients with persistent HPV16 DNA in their rinses after treatment later had recurrence meant that this may have the potential to become an effective prognostic tool.”