Human papilloma virus (HPV) is an etiological agent of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC). Patients with HPV+ OPSCC have high long-term survival rates: however, current radiation protocols are aggressive and can result in life-long morbidities, including difficulty swallowing, chronic dry-mouth, and altered speech. In this episode, Curtis Pickering and colleagues evaluated gene expression profiles, tumor presentation, and clinical response in a cohort of patients with HPV+ OPSCC and identified a signature associated with poor treatment response. This signature has potential to inform treatment of patients with HPV+ OPSCC, thereby reducing radiation for those with low-risk disease.
Incidence of HPV+ oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) has been increasing dramatically. Although long-term survival rates for these patients are high, they often suffer from permanent radiotherapy-related morbidity. This has prompted the development of de-escalation clinical protocols to reduce morbidity. However, a subset of patients do not respond even to standard therapy and have poor outcomes. It is unclear how to properly identify and treat the high- and low-risk HPV+ OPSCC patients. Since HPV positivity drives radiotherapy sensitivity, we hypothesized that variations in HPV biology may cause differences in treatment response and outcome. By analyzing gene expression data, we identified variations in HPV-related molecules among HPV+ OPSCC. A subset of tumors presented a molecular profile distinct from that of typical HPV+ tumors and exhibited poor treatment response, indicating molecular and clinical similarities with HPV– tumors. These molecular changes were also observed in vitro and correlated with radiation sensitivity. Finally, we developed a prognostic biomarker signature for identification of this subgroup of HPV+ OPSCC and validated it in independent cohorts of oropharyngeal and cervical carcinomas. These findings could translate to improved patient stratification for treatment deintensification and new therapeutic approaches for treatment-resistant HPV-related cancer.
Frederico O. Gleber-Netto, Xiayu Rao, Theresa Guo, Yuanxin Xi, Meng Gao, Li Shen, Kelly Erikson, Nene N. Kalu, Shuling Ren, Guorong Xu, Kathleen M. Fisch, Keiko Akagi, Tanguy Seiwert, Maura Gillison, Mitchell J. Frederick, Faye M. Johnson, Jing Wang, Jeffrey N. Myers, Joseph Califano, Heath D. Skinner, Curtis R. Pickering