Methods: The ability of HPV RNA-ISH, HPV DNA-ISH, and HPV DNA-PCR to identify p16-positive/HPV-positive patients was investigated in a population-based oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) cohort of patients diagnosed in Northern Ireland from 2000 to 2011.
Results: Only 41% of the Northern Irish OPSCC patient population was associated with HPV-driven carcinogenesis. Both ISH assays were more specific than the DNA-PCR assay (100% and 95% vs. 67%) and were less likely to be affected by preanalytic factors such as increasing block age. A pooled HPV genotype probe for RNA-ISH was found to be the most accurate molecular assay assessed (95% accuracy) when compared with p16 positivity.
Conclusions: Our study demonstrates the advantage of tissue-based molecular assays when determining HPV status in retrospective samples. Specifically, we demonstrate the enhanced sensitivity and specificity of ISH techniques compared with PCR-based methodology when working with formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue, and found HPV RNA-ISH to be the most effective assay for determining HPV status.
Impact: As p16 IHC is a relatively inexpensive, accessible, and sensitive test for stratifying patients by HPV status, this study finds that more patients would benefit from first-line p16 IHC followed by specific HPV testing using HPV RNA-ISH to confirm HPV status.