It’s good news for a substantial number of patients that scientists have developed blood and saliva tests that help accurately predict returns of HPV-linked oral cancers. As known, the tests screen for DNA fragments of the human papillomavirus (HPV) shed from cancer cells lingering in the mouth or other parts of the body.
Patients with such cancers are generally examined every one to three months in the first year after diagnosis. Recurrences are often found when patients experience ulcers, pain or lumps in the neck. However imaging tests are unreliable in detecting cancer recurrence earlier, and the location of oropharyngeal cancers make it difficult for physicians to spot budding lesions.
A investigator says, “There is a window of opportunity in the year after initial therapy to take an aggressive approach to spotting recurrences and intensively addressing them while they are still highly treatable. Until now, there has been no reliable biological way to identify which patients are at higher risk for recurrence, so these tests should greatly help do so.”
High predictive value for recurrence
For the study, investigators analyzed blood and saliva samples from 93 oropharyngeal cancer patients including 81 patients with HPV-positive tumors, and found that HPV DNA detected in both blood and saliva samples after treatment was predictive for recurrence nearly 70% of the time in a subset of the patients.
Scientists are seeking other genomic biomarkers that would increase the specificity of HPV DNA testing in blood and saliva. Meanwhile, What is alarming is that the research is too small to link test results to the severity of recurrence.
Saliva and Plasma Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction–Based Detection and Surveillance of Human Papillomavirus–Related Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 2014