Public Release: 

Blood antibodies may predict HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer survival

American Association for Cancer Research

Background: According to Sturgis, the incidence of HPV-positive oropharyngeal carcinoma has increased dramatically in recent years. Although patients with HPV-positive disease have a better prognosis than those with HPV-negative disease, researchers are still seeking a better understanding of what group of patients is more likely to respond to treatment.

How the Study Was Conducted: Sturgis and colleagues used blood samples from 209 patients with previously untreated oropharyngeal carcinoma, including 96 who had confirmed HPV-positive disease, and screened the samples for HPV16 antibodies E1, E4-7, L1, L2, and the N-terminal and C-terminal fragments of E2. Samples were taken as part of the initial patient workup, six weeks after the end of treatment, and at six-month intervals up to three years.

Results: Patients who were positive for any of the E antibodies tested had improved overall and progression-free survival compared with those negative for the antibodies. The five-year overall survival estimate for patients positive for E antibodies was 87.4 percent compared with 42.2 percent for patients negative for E antibodies. The five-year progression-free survival estimate was 82.9 percent for antibody-positive patients compared with 46.1 percent for antibody-negative patients.

Patients with HPV-positive disease who were also positive for the NE2, E1, or E6 antibodies had an 80 percent reduced risk for death and a 70 percent reduced risk for disease progression.

No survival advantage was noted for the L antibodies tested in the study.

E proteins of HPV are antigens that play a role in HPV-mediated carcinogenesis, and L proteins are involved in the development of the virus shell, which are lost once the HPV DNA is integrated into human DNA, Sturgis explained.

Author Comment: In an interview, Sturgis said, ""We found that patients who were serologically positive to the E proteins of HPV16 had a better prognosis than those patients who were seronegative to these antigens. This seemed particularly true of patients who had tumors that we could confirm were HPV-positive.

"If this testing became commercially available it could not only be used as a means of identifying people who are at risk for oropharyngeal and other HPV cancers, but may also allow identification of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer patients at greater or lower risk for cancer recurrence and death. These data further suggest that if we can modify patient immunity and increase a patient's E antibody response, we might be able to affect cancer outcomes," Sturgis added. "Clinical trials are now testing whether vaccines that can stimulate these antibodies have clinical utility in HPV-related cancers."


Main Finding(s): The presence of certain human papillomavirus (HPV)-16 antibodies in the blood was associated with improved rates of survival among patients with HPV-related oropharyngeal carcinoma.

Journal in Which the Study was Published: Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research

Author: Erich M. Sturgis, MD, MPH, professor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

To interview Erich Sturgis, contact Ron Gilmore at or 713-745-1898. For other inquiries, contact Lauren Riley at or 215-446-7155.

Funding & Disclosures: This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Arizona State University institutional funds, the National Cancer Institute Early Detection Research Network, and the Stiefel Oropharyngeal Research Fund. Sturgis declares no conflicts of interest.

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About the American Association for Cancer Research

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 35,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in 101 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 25 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with almost 19,300 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual investigator grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and other policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit

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