Study helps quantify HPV-head/neck cancer link

Immunohistochemistry (IHC) can help classify a head and neck cancer tumor as being truly associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a new study in Oncology Reports (August 24, 2012).

For the study, researchers from Peking University Cancer Hospital collected formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissues of 93 pathologically diagnosed head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) patients. They screened DNA sequences in tumor samples for HPVs and HPV-specific polymerase chain reaction assays. They then used IHC with HPV16/18 E6-specific antibodies to assess the presence of HPV16/18 oncoproteins in the tissues.

Of the 93 patients, 16 (17.2%) cases were found to be HPV DNA-positive, including seven HPV18-positive, eight HPV16-positive, and one HPV52-positive, the study authors reported. IHC assays demonstrated that 31.2% (29/93) tested sections showed positive signals in the tumor cells.

In addition, they found that HPV infections in head and neck SCCs were significantly related with the tumor anatomic sites, showing decreasing tendency from outside (lip cancer) to inside (laryngeal cancer), but had no correlation with pathological, clinical grades, and age of the patients.

In all, HPV infections are commonly identified in the tumor tissues of patients with head and neck SCCs, in which HPV16 and 18 are the most prevalent HPV genotypes, the researchers noted.

"Direct detection of high-risk HPV oncoprotein by IHC may be a good tool for classifying a tumor as truly HPV-associated," they concluded.

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