Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in the UK have developed a new blood test to detect the presence of any residual tumours after chemotherapy and radiotherapy in locally advanced (non-metastatic) head and neck cancer patients.
The HPV16-detect test is designed to identify DNA from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to drive the development of head and neck cancer in certain patients.
Intended to eliminate the need for repeat biopsies, the test could aid in minimising the number of patients with HPV-positive tumours who undergo neck surgery by predicting treatment response.
ICR associate honorary faculty Dr Shreerang Bhide said: “Among cases of head and neck cancer, patients with the HPV-positive disease tend to be younger and have better survival rates.
“This research shows that a blood test for HPV DNA can be used to identify how patients have responded to treatment, and therefore has the potential to spare them unnecessary surgery and significantly improve their quality of life.”
The researchers compared the new test with biopsy analysis in 88 head and neck cancer patients.
While the standard test identified 47 patients with HPV-positive tumours, the new examination detected 86 patients and did not deliver any false positive results for HPV-negative tumours.
The test also found 36 out of 37 patients were tested negative for residual HPV following treatment, while the remaining HPV-positive patient encountered disease recurrence.
PET-CT scans, however, are reported to have detected abnormalities in six treated patients that were later found to be non-cancerous.
Image: Blood samples. Photo: courtesy of the Institute of Cancer Research.