Biomarkers for Early Detection of HPV-driven Oropharyngeal Cancer

Biomarkers detectable prior to clinical diagnosis and specific for a particular cancer have the potential to revolutionize cancer care through early detection. A substantial proportion of oropharyngeal cancers – up to 40% in Europe and 70% in the USA – are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. A recent EPIC study showed that HPV16 E6 antibodies are present in pre-diagnostic sera for 35% of research participants who later developed oropharyngeal cancer, with a prevalence of 0.6% in control subjects, indicating that this biomarker could detect the majority of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers with a very high specificity. This study demonstrated two essential features of biomarkers for early detection of cancer: (i) high specificity to diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer (above 99%), and (ii) detectable long before clinical diagnosis (up to 10 years). Serum antibodies of HPV16 E6 may prove useful as a screening biomarker for oropharyngeal cancer.

Kreimer AR et al. Evaluation of human papillomavirus antibodies and risk of subsequent head and neck cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2013 Jul 20;31(21):2708-15. PMID: 23775966