HPV status of oropharyngeal cancer by combination HPV DNA/p16 testing: Biological relevance of discordant results

Angela Hong, Deanna Jones, Mark Chatfield, C Soon Lee, Mei Zhang, Jonathan Clark, Michael Elliott, Gerry Harnett, Christopher Milross, Barbara Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Purpose: Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes up to 70 % of oropharyngeal cancers (OSCC). HPV positive OSCC has a more favorable outcome, thus HPV status is being used to guide treatment and predict outcome. Combination HPV DNA/p16ink4 (p16) testing is commonly used for HPV status, but there are no standardized methods, scoring or interpretative criteria. The significance of discordant (HPV DNA positive/p16 negative and HPV DNA negative/p16 positive) cancers is controversial. In this study, 647 OSCCs from 10 Australian centers were tested for HPV DNA/p16 expression. Our aims are to determine p16 distribution by HPV DNA status to inform decisions on p16 scoring and to assess clinical significance of discordant cancers.

Methods: HPV DNA was identified using a multiplex tandem HPV E6 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay and p16 expression by semiquantitative immunohistochemistry.

Results: p16 distribution was essentially bimodal (42 % of cancers had ≥70 % positive staining, 52 % <5 % positive, 6 % between 5 and 70 %). Cancers with 5 to <50 % staining had similar characteristics to the p16 negative group, and cancers with 50 to <70 % staining were consistent with the ≥70 % group. Using a p16 cut-point of 50 %, there were 25 % HPV DNA positive/p16 negative cancers and 1 % HPV DNA negative/p16 positive cancers. HPV DNA positive/p16 negative cancers had outcomes similar to HPV DNA negative/p16 negative cancers.

Conclusions: 50 % is a reasonable cut-point for p16; HPV DNA positive/p16 negative OSCCs may be treated as HPV negative for clinical purposes; HPV DNA/p16 testing may add no prognostic information over p16 alone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Surgical Oncology
Issue numberSupplement 3
Early online date4 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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