Human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 DNA in oral rinses is common at diagnosis, but rare after treatment for HPV oropharyngeal carcinoma (OPC).

A study published online ahead of print in JAMA Oncology found a link between persistent HPV16 DNA in post-treatment oral rinses and poor prognosis.

Although infrequent, the rinse can potentially be a tool for long-term tumor surveillance, according to the study.

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HPV-OPC incidence rates are increasing in the United States. Prognosis is typically favorable, however it has a 10% to 25% recurrence rate. Researchers evaluated whether HPV DNA detection in oral rinses post-treatment was associated with recurrence and survival.

Patients with HPV-OPC diagnosed between 2009 and 2013 were included in the study and samples were collected post treatment at 9, 12, 18, and 24 months following diagnosis. A total of 124 patients had one or more oral rinses available and were included.

Researchers found that at diagnosis, HPV16 DNA was present in 54% of samples. Post treatment, however, it was detected in six participants (5%), five of whom in which it was also detected at diagnosis. Two-year disease-free survival and overall survival rates were 92% and 98%, respectively.

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Persistent HPV16 DNA was associated with worse disease-free survival and overall survival. All participants with persistent HPV16 DNA developed recurrent disease.

However 9 of 119 participants (8%) without persistent HPV16 DNA developed recurrent disease.


  1. Rettig EM, Wentz A, Posner MR, et al. Prognostic implication of persistent human papillomavirus type 16 DNA detection in oral rinses for human papillomavirus-related oropharyngeal carcinoma. JAMA Oncol. 2015. [epub ahead of print]. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.2524.