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Novel Biomarker May Predict Recurrence in HPV+ Oropharyngeal Cancer

Allie Strickler @Alliejayes
Published: Friday, Jan 13, 2017

Matthew E. Spector, MD

Matthew E. Spector, MD

In the current treatment landscape of HPV-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), there is a significant lack of biomarkers to predict recurrence. Additionally, as Matthew E. Spector, MD, notes, the incidence of OPSCC continues to rise.

“Due to HPV, people are getting more and more of these types of cancers, and hopefully that will go down once more people get vaccinated, but right now, we’re on this big upswing that’s probably going to keep going up,” said Spector, who is the lead author of a new biomarker study published in Clinical Cancer Research.

In the study, researchers found that patients whose oropharyngeal cancer recurred had higher levels of antibodies for 2 proteins, E6 and E7, which are found in HPV-driven cancers. These findings highlight the potential for a novel, blood-based marker that could predict when cancer is likely to return.

In an interview with OncLive, Spector, an assistant professor specializing in otolaryngology at the University of Michigan Medical School, discussed the results of this study as well as the pressing need for biomarkers in this patient population.

OncLive: Please discuss the lack of biomarkers in head and neck cancer, and how that affects the treatment landscape.

Spector: Oropharynx cancer is one of the only types of cancer that is really increasing in incidence, especially in head and neck cancer. Due to HPV, people are getting more and more of these types of cancers, and hopefully, that will go down once more people get vaccinated, but right now, we’re on this big upswing that’s probably going to keep going up. These patients are usually younger, they’re healthier, and they have less smoking and drinking history. When we saw this, we needed a way to try to predict which patients would fail therapy, because most patients do pretty well.

Biomarkers in cancer are always a little tricky. There are some really good ones out there. Prostate cancer has a really good blood-based biomarker, as does thyroid cancer. But for head and neck cancer, we’ve tried a lot of different things, but we haven’t been able to detect it.

What’s unique about this cancer is that there are actually viral oncoproteins that are circulating in the blood at some point, so we used that premise to develop this test. The test basically looks at antibodies against those viral oncoproteins, and they’re called E6 and E7, and we’re able to detect those in patients who are developing recurrence where their antibody levels are actually going up.

How was your study conducted, and what were the most significant findings?

The patients that we used for this trial were before my time here at the University of Michigan, but 1 thing we’ve done really well as a group is to collect samples on everybody. We collect blood samples every couple of months, we collect tumor samples when patients initially develop cancer, and then we store these to do studies like this.

We looked back at patients, who were treated from approximately 2000 to 2010, and we looked at their blood samples, and then we divided them into 2 groups: patients who recurred and patients who didn’t. Then we used their blood samples to measure these antibody levels.




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