Br J Cancer 2019 Apr 20;120(8):827-833. Epub 2019 Mar 20.
Centre for Cell Research and Cell Biology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK.
Background: TNM8 staging for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OPSCC) surrogates p16 immunohistochemistry for HPV testing. Patients with p16+ OPSCC may lack HPV aetiology. Here, we evaluate the suitability of TNM8 staging for guiding prognosis in such patients.
Methods: HPV status was ascertained using p16 immunohistochemistry and high-risk HPV RNA and DNA in situ hybridisation. Survival by stage in a cohort of OPSCC patients was evaluated using TNM7/TNM8 staging. Survival of p16+/HPV- patients was compared to p16 status.
Results: TNM8 staging was found to improve on TNM7 (log rank p = 0·0190 for TNM8 compared with p = 0·0530 for TNM7) in p16+ patients. Patients who tested p16+ but were HPV- (n = 20) had significantly reduced five-year survival (33%) compared to p16+ patients (77%) but not p16- patients (35%). Cancer stage was reduced in 95% of p16+/HPV- patients despite having a mortality rate twice (HR 2.66 [95% CI: 1.37-5.15]) that of p16+/HPV+ patients under new TNM8 staging criteria.
Conclusion: Given the significantly poorer survival of p16+/HPV- OPSCCs, these data provide compelling evidence for use of an HPV-specific test for staging classification. This has particular relevance in light of potential treatment de-escalation that could expose these patients to inappropriately reduced treatment intensity as treatment algorithms evolve.