Physicians at John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre have developed blood and saliva tests that help accurately predict recurrences of HPV-linked oral cancers in a substantial number of patients. 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.
Joseph Califano from John Hopkins said: “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.”
The John Hopkins team analysed blood and saliva samples from 93 oropharyngeal cancer patients who were treated with surgery, radiation alone, or combined chemotherapy and radiation. Of the patients, 81 had HPV-positive tumours. The researchers selected patients with a variety of early-to-advanced stage cancers, and took blood and saliva tests.
The scientists found that HPV DNA detected in patients’ saliva after treatment was predictive for recurrence nearly 20 per cent of the time in a subset of the patients. When the scientists looked for HPV DNA in the blood of another subset of patients, the accuracy of a recurrence prediction rose to more than 55 per cent. In a third subset of patients, finding HPV DNA in both blood and saliva samples after treatment accurately predicted recurrence 70 per cent of the time.