A saliva test could prevent head cancers associated with human papillomavirus

A saliva test could prevent head cancers associated with human papillomavirus

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that has more than 100 subtypes, and some of them are related with cancers that appear in several parts of the body in which the virus locates itself, such as the cervix, anus, mouth or pharynx. Nevertheless, there are tests to detect the  high risk HPV types, which means that these are cancers that can be prevented if they are diagnosed early on.

A study carried out in Australia found that saliva tests can be an effective detection tool, even capable of finding head and neck cancers which are asymptomatic, and thus prevent the development of the illness.  

Before it’s too late

According to the research team, early cancer detection in head and neck is difficult due to how complicated it is to access all of the areas in the mouth and pharynx in order to look for lesions. Thus, most cancer cases in these areas are usually found in advanced stages, having a more pessimistic prognosis.

Head and neck cancer can mainly appear in the mouth, throat, jaw or nose. Therefore, researchers studied if HPV DNA detection in saliva could work as an appropriate strategy in order to find cancerous lesions in an early stage. Additionally, they analyzed if this could be a marker that could predict the severity of the oral or pharyngeal cancer, as informed by the Working Group on HIV Treatments (gTt-VIH).

For the study, they took saliva samples from 501 people with head and neck cancer: 491 recently diagnosed and 10 with recurring cancer. From the total participants, 43% tested positive in the saliva HPV screening test. The great majority of the positive tests (92%) matched the HPV subtype 16, which is a high risk subtype.

Since these results were already known, this study confirmed that the majority of head and neck cancer cases originated in the mouth and pharynx, especially in the tonsils and base of the tongue. Thus, in the case of people who only had cancer in the mouth or pharynx, 72% tested positive in the HPV saliva test and, out of those, 89.3% had the virus subtype 16.

As for this test ‘s value as a prognosis tool, it was observed that those who tested positive to the virus DNA detection presented higher survival rates (up to 17 years on average) compared to those who had a negative result (7 years).

It should be remembered that vaccines exist in order to prevent the high risk HPV subtypes (mainly types 6, 11, 16 and 18), but in many countries they’re still not available for everybody.

Using a condom can reduce the risk of getting HPV. At AHF Latin America and The Caribbean we offer free condoms. Come to our closest center in your country or write to us via Whatsapp for more information.