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Promise and Progress - Test for Oral Cancers

Promise & Progress - A Spectrum of Achievements

Test for Oral Cancers

Date: January 15, 2015


JAMA Otolaryngology, July 9, 2014

Johns Hopkins scientists developed blood and saliva tests to help detect HPV-linked oral cancers that have come back after treatment. The tests detect HPV (human papilloma virus) DNA shed from cancer cells. 

“There is a window of opportunity in the year after initial therapy to take an aggressive approach to spotting recurrences and intensively addressing them while they are still highly treatable.  Until now, there has been no reliable biological way to identify which patients are at higher risk for recurrence, and these tests will help us do so,” says Joseph Califano, M.D., professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, member of the Kimmel Cancer Center, and medical director of the Milton J. Dance, Jr., Head and Neck Center at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Current methods of detecting recurrence, including physical examinations and imaging, have not worked well. 

In a small study of patients with HPV-positive oral cancers, Califano found that detecting HPV DNA in both blood and saliva was most predictive for cancer recurrence.  He is now working to further improve the tests.  “We have to be sure that positive test results are cancer-specific and not related to other forms of HPV infection or exposure,” he says.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (P50 CA19032).