(HealthDay News) — In plasma samples obtained prior to diagnosis, the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 E6 antibodies was more likely to be detected in patients with oropharyngeal cancer than in controls, according to research published online June 17 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Aimée R. Kreimer, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Md., and colleagues identified 638 participants with incident head and neck cancer (including 247 with cancer of the hypopharynx or larynx, 180 with cancer of the oral cavity, and 135 with cancer of the oropharynx), 300 patients with esophageal cancers, and 1,599 comparable controls from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort. Plasma samples from patients, collected an average of six years before diagnosis, and from controls were analyzed for multiple proteins of HPV16 and various other HPV types.

The researchers found HPV16 antibodies in plasma from 34.8% of patients with oropharyngeal cancer (prediagnostic samples) versus 0.6% of controls (odds ratio, 274). No association of HPV16 seropositivity was observed for cancers at the other sites. Among participants who were seropositive for HPV16 E6, the increased risk of oropharyngeal cancer was independent of the time between blood sample collection and diagnosis, and seropositivity was detected more than 10 years before the diagnosis.

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“HPV16 E6 seropositivity was present in 35% of patients with oropharyngeal cancer, in plasma specimens collected, on average, six years before cancer diagnosis,” the authors write. “HPV16 was not associated with risk of oral cavity, larynx, or esophagus cancer.”