The unveiled reality of human papillomavirus as risk factor for oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma

Irene H Nauta, Daniëlle A M Heideman, Arjen Brink, Berdine van der Steen, Elisabeth Bloemena, Senada Koljenović, Robert J Baatenburg de Jong, C René Leemans, Ruud H Brakenhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The prognostic impact of human papillomavirus (HPV) in oropharyngeal cancer is generally acknowledged, and HPV-status is assessed routinely in clinical practice. Paradoxically, while the oral cavity seems the predilection site for productive HPV-infections, figures on HPV-attribution in oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma (OCSCC) differ widely, and prognostic impact is uncertain. Major obstacles are the lack of reproducible assays to detect HPV in nonoropharyngeal cancers, the relatively small cohorts studied and consequently the shortfall of convincing data. In our study, we used a validated, nucleic acid-based workflow to assess HPV-prevalence in a consecutive cohort of 1016 OCSCCs, and investigated its prognostic impact. In parallel, we analyzed p16-immunohistochemistry (p16-IHC) as surrogate marker for transforming HPV-infection and independent prognosticator. All OCSCC-patients diagnosed between 2008 and 2014 at two Dutch university medical centers were included (N = 1069). Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE)-samples of 1016 OCSCCs could be retrieved. Punch biopsies were taken from the tumor area in the FFPE-blocks and tested for HPV. P16-IHC was performed on 580 OCSCCs, including all HPV-positive tumors. From 940 samples (92.5%), nucleic acids were of sufficient quality for HPV-testing. In total, 21 (2.2%) OCSCCs were HPV DNA-positive. All HPV DNA-positive tumors were E6 mRNA-positive and considered as true HPV-positive. There was no difference in survival between HPV-positive and HPV-negative OCSCCs. In total, 46 of 580 (7.9%) OCSCCs were p16-immunopositive, including all HPV-positive tumors. Survival was comparable in p16-positive and p16-negative OCSCCs. To conclude, HPV-prevalence is very low in OCSCC and neither HPV-status nor p16-status affects outcome. Based on these data, determining HPV-status in OCSCC seems irrelevant for clinical management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-430
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Volume149
Issue number2
Early online date26 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021

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