Purpose: Patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) often clinically present with metastases to regional lymph nodes. Fine-needle aspiration of neck masses is routinely used to establish the presence of metastatic carcinoma and in turn to initiate a subsequent workup to determine the site of tumor origin. Human papillomavirus (HPV) 16 is an important etiologic agent for HNSCCs that arise from the oropharynx but less so for tumors from non-oropharyngeal sites. HPV16 detection thus provides a strategy for localizing an important subset of HNSCCs, but this approach has not been applied to fine-needle aspiration specimens. Experimental Design: We did in situ hybridization for HPV16 on 77 consecutive aspirated neck masses diagnosed as metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. P16 immunohistochemistry was also done because p16 overexpression may serve as a surrogate marker of HPV-associated HNSCC. Results: HPV16 was detected in 13 of the 77 (17%) aspirates. By site of origin, HPV16 was detected in 10 of 19 metastases from the oropharynx but in none of 46 metastases from other sites (53% versus 0%; P < 0.0001). HPV16 was not detected in 2 branchial cleft cysts misdiagnosed as metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, but it was detected in 3 of 10 metastases from occult primary tumors. P16 expression was associated with the presence of HPV16: 12 of 13 HPV16-positive metastases exhibited p16 expression, whereas only 4 of 62 HPV16-negative metastases were p16 positive (92% versus 6%; P < 0.0001). P16 expression also correlated with site of tumor origin: 13 of 19 oropharyngeal metastases were p16 positive, whereas only 1 of 46 non-oropharyngeal metastases was p16 positive (68% versus 2%; P < 0.0001). Conclusions: HPV16 status can be determined in tumor cells aspirated from the necks of patients with metastatic HNSCC. Its presence is a reliable indicator of origin from the oropharynx.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research