HPV-Associated Cancers

Investigators: Karen Anderson, M.D., Ph.D and Garrick Wallstrom, Ph.D..

Collaborators: Elizabeth Unger, M.D., Ph.D. (CDC, Chronic Viral Disease Branch), Erich Sturgis, M.D. (The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), Jon Mork, M.D. (Oslo University Hospital, Norway), Robert Haddad, M.D. (Dana Farber Cancer Institute), Gypsyamber D'Souza, Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University), Marshall Posner, M.D. (Mount Sinai School of Medicine), and Neil Gross, M.D., F.A.C.S. (Oregon Health and Science University)


Disease Background

Who gets it?
What are the symptoms?
How do we detect it now?
How is it currently treated?
What are the current challenges?
  • The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with many diseases, from warts to cancer.
  • We are studying oropharyngeal cancer (OPC)—or head and neck cancer—and cervical cancer.

OPC can affect young adults to the elderly

  • OPC symptoms: lump or sore that does not heal, difficulty in swallowing, change or hoarseness in voice
  • OPC outcomes: 5-year survival rate for local tumors is 56%

Cervical cancer can affect all women

  • Cervical cancer symptoms: abnormal menstruation and vaginal discharge, or no symptoms at all
  • Cervical cancer Outcomes: 5-year survival rate for local tumors is 93%. The rate drops to 15% for Stage 4B (worst stage of cancer)
  • OPC is detected by taking a biopsy of the cancerous lesion and performing such tests such as detection of HPV DNA, or surrogate tumor biomarkers like the protein p16.
  • Treatment: Removal of tumor, chemotherapy, radiation therapy
  • Cervical cancer can be detected during regular Pap tests, with a follow up of colposcopy (magnified examination of the cervix) and biopsy of the cancerous lesion. Cells from the Pap smears can be examined under a microscope for abnormal cells.
  • Treatment: removing/burning/freezing tumor, chemotherapy, radiation therapy
  • There is currently no early screening test for OPC, and we are unsure if the current HPV-vaccines protect against OPC. HPV-positive OPC may also require less treatment than HPV-negative OPC.
  • Two types of HPV have been found to be associated with cervical cancer, but there may be more, and we want to strengthen detection by knowing these types.

Our Approach

There is evidence that patients with OPC and Cervical cancer have immune system changes compared to healthy individuals. Our goal is to find these differences and use them to discover and validate biomarkers for detection and disease prognosis, and to personalize its treatment. Currently, we are using programmable magnetic bead arrays that contain HPV-viral proteins to identify antibodies in the blood of OPC and Cervical cancer patients. Antibodies that bind to the HPV-proteins can be detected by fluorescence and by comparing results from patients to those of healthy people, biomarkers can be validated.

In addition to identifying biomarkers for early detection of head and neck cancer caused by HPV-infection, we are also investigating whether the HPV vaccine used to prevent cervical cancer in girls also protects against head and neck cancer.

For more details, visit Dr. Karen Anderson's website.