Biomarker May Help Predict Oropharyngeal Cancer Recurrence

HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers are among the most common types of this disease. Affecting the tongue, tonsils, soft palate and pharynx, about 80 percent of these cancers are attributed to human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. Although often quite treatable, more than 25 percent of HPV-related cancers recur. In most cases, the recurrence happens within the first two years of initial treatment.

Determining which patients might require more aggressive screening following initial treatment has been difficult at best. That is why a possible new biomarker is a rather exciting breakthrough. Researchers believe they have found a way to adequately screen oropharyngeal cancer patients to determine which ones are most likely to witness recurrence.

A retrospective study involving about 60 people with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer found that those with a specific antibody, E6, were more likely to witness recurrence. Those with high levels of E6, in fact, were about seven times more likely to see their cancer return than those who tested with lower levels. Researchers say E6 levels should ideally fall after cancer treatment. Patients with high levels after treatment may witness recurrence.

This potential biomarker may open the door for better identification and treatment of those with higher risk oropharyngeal cancer. Patients with higher levels of E6 may benefit from closer monitoring so earlier intervention of a recurrence.

HPV is related to a number of serious forms of cancer, including mouth and cervical cancers. Relatively new vaccines can safeguard against this virus. Parents of young children are urged to get their kids, girls and boys alike, vaccinated by about the age of 11. This three-shot series protects against the virus and its related forms of cancer.

People who are concerned about oropharyngeal cancers and HPV are urged to speak with their healthcare providers about prevention and possible risks. Vaccinations are generally available starting around the age of 11, but can also be given in early adulthood with likely effectiveness intact.

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