Association of Oral Human Papillomavirus DNA Persistence with Cancer Progression after Primary Treatment for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Carole Fakhry, Amanda L. Blackford, Geoff Neuner, Weihong Xiao, Bo Jiang, Amit Agrawal, Maura L. Gillison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Importance: Detection of persistent oral human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA may be associated with recurrence of HPV-positive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Objective: To evaluate the dynamics of oral HPV DNA detection and associations with disease outcomes in patients with HPV-positive and HPV-negative HNSCC. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective, 2-institution, tertiary referral center study of 396 patients with newly diagnosed oral cavity or oropharyngeal HNSCC was performed from July 11, 2011, to May 7, 2016. Oral rinse samples were prospectively collected at diagnosis and at completion of primary therapy. Weekly oral rinse samples were collected during radiotherapy. Purified tumor and oral rinse sample DNA were evaluated for 37 HPV types, and viral load was quantified by type-specific real-time polymerase chain reaction. Cancers were stratified by tumor HPV status, and HPV was classified as tumor type if identical to that detected in the tumor or nontumor type. Main Outcomes and Measures: Prevalence of HPV DNA before, during, and after therapy. Associations between tumor-type and nontumor-type oral HPV DNA detection and recurrence-free and overall survival were evaluated. Results: Of the 396 patients (median age, 59 years [range, 19-96 years]; 295 [74.5%] men; and 354 [89.4%] white race/ethnicity), 217 had oropharyngeal cancer; 170, oral cavity cancer; and 9, unknown primary HNSCC. The prevalence of oral HPV detection at diagnosis was higher among patients with HPV-positive compared with HPV-negative HNSCC (24 of 194 [84.2%] vs 170 of 202 [12.4%]; P <.001). Oral HPV-16 DNA had an 81% sensitivity and 100% specificity for HPV-16-positive HNSCC. The prevalence and load of tumor-type HPV decreased significantly during primary therapy with odds ratio for probability of infection with each increasing month after diagnosis (0.41; 95% CI, 0.33-0.52; P <.001), whereas those of nontumor types did not (1.01; 95% CI, 0.97-1.06; P =.62). Current smoking was significantly associated with a reduced clearance of tumor-type HPV DNA (hazard ratio [HR], 0.54; 95% CI, 0.32-0.93). Two-year overall survival was significantly lower among the HPV-positive patients with persistent detection of tumor-type HPV after therapy than among those without detectable tumor-type DNA after therapy (68% vs 95%; adjusted HR, 6.61; 95% CI, 1.86-23.44; P =.003), as was recurrence-free survival (55% vs 88%; adjusted HR, 3.72; 95% CI, 1.71-8.09; P <.001). No associations were observed for nontumor type HPV DNA among patients with HPV-positive or HPV-negative HNSCC. Conclusions and Relevance: Prevalence and viral load of tumor-type HPV DNA decreased rapidly with therapy, and persistent detection was associated with increased risk of recurrence and death. Analysis of tumor type HPV DNA has considerable promise as a biomarker for treatment response and risk of progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)985-992
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA Oncology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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