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Human Papillomavirus-associated oropharyngeal cancer: an observational study of diagnosis, prevalence and prognosis in a UK population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Mererid Evans, Robert Newcombe, Alison Fiander, James Powell, Martin Rolles, Selvam Thavaraj, Max Robinson, Ned Powell

Original languageEnglish
Article number220
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Cancer
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013

King's Authors


Background: The incidence of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) associated oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) is increasing. HPV-associated OPC appear to have better prognosis than HPV-negative OPC. The aim of this study was to robustly determine the prevalence of HPV-positive OPC in an unselected UK population and correlate HPV positivity with clinical outcome.

Methods: HPV testing by GP5+/6+ PCR, In Situ Hybridisation (ISH) and p16 immunohistochemistry (IHC) was performed on 138 OPCs diagnosed in South Wales (UK) between 2001-06. Kaplan-Meier analysis was used to correlate HPV status with clinical outcome.

Results: Using a composite definition of HPV positivity (HPV DNA and p16 overexpression), HPV was detected in 46/83 (55%) samples where DNA quality was assured. Five year overall survival was 75.4% (95% CI: 65.2 to 85.5) in HPV-positives vs 25.3% (95% CI: 14.2 to 36.4) in HPV negatives, corresponding to a 78% reduction in death rate (HR 0.22, p <0.001). HPV-positives had less locoregional recurrence but second HPV-positive Head and Neck primaries occurred. Poor quality DNA in fixed pathological specimens reduced both HPV prevalence estimates and the prognostic utility of DNA-based HPV testing methods. As a single marker, p16 was least affected by sample quality and correlated well with prognosis, although was not sufficient on its own for accurate HPV prevalence reporting.

Conclusions: This study highlights the significant burden of OPC associated with HPV infection. HPV positive cases are clinically distinct from other OPC, and are associated with significantly better clinical outcomes. A composite definition of HPV positivity should be used for accurate prevalence reporting and up-front DNA quality assessment is recommended for any DNA-based HPV detection strategy.

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