Nav: Home

Blood-borne HPV antibodies indicate head, neck cancer prognosis

December 08, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- People with head and neck cancers with evidence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection generally have a better prognosis than people without evidence of infection. A new study in JAMA Oncology suggests that to produce a strong, reliable prognostic signal, all that's needed is a blood serum test for two specific HPV antibodies, rather than lab work on a biopsy. Further, the researchers said, the study shows that this blood-based biomarker is predictive of outcome for all types of head and neck cancer.

"What this adds is that it helps us know how best to measure clinically the HPV contribution to this disease," said study senior author Karl Kelsey, a professor of epidemiology and of pathology and laboratory medicine at Brown University. Kelsey collaborated with lead author Heather Nelson of the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center in making the findings.

Moreover, Nelson, Kelsey and their colleagues wrote, referring to the common HPV16 strain of the virus: "These data are among the first to demonstrate a convincing relationship between HPV16 and improved patient survival for tumors of the larynx and oral cavity."

Appraising antibodies

The study examined blood serum samples and five-year survival rates among more than 1,000 Boston-area head and neck cancer patients diagnosed between 1999 and 2011. Overall, those who tested positive for antibodies to the oncogenic HPV proteins E6 or E7 were less likely to die during the five year follow-up period after diagnosis compared to those who tested negative for the antibodies. Based on the analysis, the researchers estimated that those with evidence of an immune response to HPV were 25% less likely to die during the course of follow-up compared to those with no immune response to HPV.

The study's purpose was to determine whether the antibodies provide a reliable indication of prognosis. In ongoing trials, doctors are testing whether patients with HPV-associated cancers can be treated less aggressively -- and hopefully with fewer negative side effects -- than people with non-HPV-associated cancers, Kelsey said. If trials prove successful, then it will be particularly important to determine whether cancers are HPV-associated.

"The assessment of a patient's HPV status likely will affect treatment," he said. "That's why there's real interest in getting it right; for instance, how do you test?"

Better prognosis across the board

Prior studies have focused primarily on the role of HPV in the oropharynx -- the area of the throat right behind the mouth. An important contribution of the current study, Nelson said, is demonstration that an immune response to HPV is important for all forms of head and neck cancer, although the benefit does show some variance based on the exact cancer location. Those patients with an HPV immune response with tumors located in the oropharynx and larynx had a similar risk of dying during the follow-up period, though the reduced risk was slightly attenuated for those patients with tumors located in the oral cavity.

The results didn't depend significantly on whether people had high or low levels of the antibodies, so long as they had some, the researchers found, though testing positive for both E6 and E7 was better than for just one.

The reduced chance of dying by five years carried through for people who tested positive for the antibodies even if they consumed tobacco and alcohol. But the worst prognoses in the study were among smokers whose cancers could not be traced to HPV.

In all, the findings controlled for the statistical influences not only of tobacco and alcohol exposure, but also of age, race, gender, education and how far advanced the cancer was.

Relates to broader advances

Kelsey said the findings could help bring head and neck cancer treatment closer into line with two emerging practices of fighting the disease: personalized medicine and immunotherapy.

"To me, personalized medicine really reflects using all the information you can glean about an individual tumor to treat it appropriately," Kelsey said. "Here HPV is an example of a causal factor that delineates the mechanism of the tumor suppressor genes that drive the tumor and that gives you insight into the differences in the tumor."

Meanwhile, the study might help shed light on why immunotherapy -- in which the body's immune system is marshaled to attack cancer -- appears to help for some head and neck cancers, Kelsey said. It may not be coincidence, for instance, that the prognosis is better among people whose cancers are associated with a virus that promotes a robust immune response, in the form of antibodies, than among people without a viral cause for their cancer.

If HPV-related cancers can indeed be treated differently, Kelsey said, then serum-based testing to determine the role of the virus could soon be available, too.
-end-
In addition to Nelson and Kelsey, the paper's other authors are Dr. Michale Pawlita, Dominique Michaud, Michael McClean, Scott Langevin and Melissa Eliot.

The National Cancer Institute (grants: R01CA121147, R01CA100679, R01CA078609 to Kelsey), the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (T32ES07272 to Langevin), and Minnesota Masonic Charities (to Nelson) funded the study.

Brown University

Related Cancer Articles:

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.
More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.
New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.
American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.
Oncotarget: Cancer pioneer employs physics to approach cancer in last research article
In the cover article of Tuesday's issue of Oncotarget, James Frost, MD, PhD, Kenneth Pienta, MD, and the late Donald Coffey, Ph.D., use a theory of physical and biophysical symmetry to derive a new conceptualization of cancer.
Health indicators for newborns of breast cancer survivors may vary by cancer type
In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center analyzed health indicators for children born to young breast cancer survivors in North Carolina.
Few women with history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer take a recommended genetic test
More than 80 percent of women living with a history of breast or ovarian cancer at high-risk of having a gene mutation have never taken the test that can detect it.
Radiotherapy for invasive breast cancer increases the risk of second primary lung cancer
East Asian female breast cancer patients receiving radiotherapy have a higher risk of developing second primary lung cancer.
More Cancer News and Cancer Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.