Detection of stage I HPV-driven oropharyngeal cancer in asymptomatic individuals in the Hamburg City Health Study using HPV16 E6 serology – A proof-of-concept study

Chia Jung Busch, Anna Sophie Hoffmann, Daniele Viarisio, Benjamin T. Becker, Thorsten Rieckmann, Christian Betz, Noemi Bender, Lea Schroeder, Yassin Hussein, Elina Petersen, Annika Jagodzinski, Ines Schäfer, Eike Burandt, Krystle Lang Kuhs, Michael Pawlita, Tim Waterboer, Nicole Brenner

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8 Scopus citations


Background: The lack of detectable precancerous lesions poses challenges to the early detection of human papillomavirus-driven oropharyngeal cancer (HPV-OPC). Antibodies against HPV16 early proteins, especially E6, are uniquely sensitive and specific biomarkers detectable years prior to HPV-OPC diagnosis. Thus, HPV16 early protein serology warrants clinical investigation for HPV-OPC screening. Methods: Using multiplex serology, we analyzed HPV16 serum antibodies of the first 5000 participants (n=4,424 sera, recruited 2016-2017) of the Hamburg City Health Study, a population-based prospective cohort (45-74 years). Participants seropositive for HPV16 E6 and at least one additional early protein (E1, E2, E7) were considered at high risk for HPV-OPC development and invited to six-monthly non-invasive head and neck follow-up (FU) examinations (visual inspection, endoscopy, ultrasonography, performed 2019-2020). Participants with suspicious lesions were examined by magnetic resonance imaging and panendoscopy with biopsy. Histologically confirmed OPC cases were treated according to standard of care. Findings: In total, 35 out of 4,424 study participants (0·8%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0·6-1·1%) were HPV16 E6 seropositive. Among these, eleven (0·3%, 95%CI 0·1-0·5%) were considered at high risk for HPV-OPC of which nine were successfully re-contacted and invited to regular clinical FU examinations. Two males and one female were diagnosed with stage I HPV-OPC within 1·3 years of clinical FU (3-4 years after initial blood draw), representing one diagnosis of prevalent advanced disease, one incident diagnosis of advanced disease, and one incident diagnosis of early disease. The remaining participants showed no detectable signs of cancer, and undergo regular examinations (median clinical FU: 1·0 years, median total FU from blood draw to last clinical FU visit: 4·7 years). Interpretation: HPV16 early antibodies allowed identifying three asymptomatic stage I HPV-OPC patients, out of eleven participants considered at high risk. However, two of the three cases already showed signs of advanced disease at diagnosis. Targeting multiple early proteins may considerably improve the positive predictive value of HPV16 serology and may have clinical utility for HPV-OPC screening. Funding: This work was funded by DKFZ and UKE intramural funding.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101659
StatePublished - Nov 2022

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  • HPV-driven oropharyngeal cancer
  • HPV16 early antigen serology
  • Screening and early detection
  • Secondary prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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