Scientists Could Easily Track HPV-linked Throat Cancer Using Oral Rinses

Preliminary findings from a research study conducted in the U.S. have given hope of scientists coming up with a new way of monitoring the development of cancer in patients suffering from a type of throat cancer that is linked with the human papillomavirus (HPV). They were able to find traces of HPV DNA from oral rinses that can be used to track how the patients’ bodies are responding to treatment and if the disease is likely to return.

Their results were published in the medical journal JAMA Oncology.

With about 75% of oropharyngeal cancers today associated with the presence of HPV -- a virus which had in the past been mostly linked to cervical cancer -- the researchers have been able to develop a new way of checking for traces of HPV DNA in oral rinses. Previous studies have shown that the disease can persist or come back even after treatment in some instances.

In order to prove if the presence of the virus after treatment affects how patients continued to respond to the treatment, a team of doctors led by John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Dr. Gypsyamber D’Souza conducted an analysis of oral rinses from a total of 124 patients suffering from HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer. The samples were collected both prior to and after treatment.

The researchers were particularly looking for a strain of DNA from HPV16, a form of the disease thought by scientists to be responsible for most of the cases. Though HPV16 DNA was found in 67 patients out of the 124 sampled, after treatment the cancer only persisted in six patients. Further follow-up also revealed that the disease came back in five out of the six, subsequently leading to the deaths of three of them.

On the other hand, only nine out of the 119 patients who didn’t have persistent HPV16 DNA went on to develop recurrent cancer.

Prof Hisham Mehanna, a Cancer Research UK expert in head and neck cancers from the UK’s University of Birmingham, said that the findings from the U.S. study showed a lot of promise though further research will have to be conducted to confirm this new idea.


IMG Source: Flickr


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Adnan Kubi

Adnan Kubi

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