BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) is investigated in various cancers. In squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (SCCA) infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) is found in around 90% of cases and here, plasma HPV (pHPV) can be used as ctDNA. Preliminary data have proved the ability to detect pHPV16 and -18 in SCCA. We have developed a highly sensitive method for measurement of six relevant pHPV subtypes, to investigate the elimination pattern of pHPV during chemo-radiotherapy (CRT) for SCCA and its clinical value.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: Patients treated at Aarhus University Hospital from 2016-2020 were included. P16 status in the primary biopsy was measured and 82% of patients had P16 positive tumor. Blood samples were collected prior to treatment (PT), mid treatment (MT), end of therapy (EOT), and during follow-up (FU). An in-house multiplex digital droplet PCR method measured pHPV subtypes 16, 18, 31, 33, 51, 58.
RESULTS: Samples from 88 patients were drawn PT (n = 73), MT (n = 72), EOT (n = 64) and during FU (n = 41). Plasma HPV was detectable in 52 patients and PT pHPV levels correlated to tumor stages. Three elimination patterns were observed during CRT with correlation to outcome: fast responders with no local or distant failures (0/12); slow responders with high risk of local failures (4/20), no distant failures; persistent molecular responders with high risk of distant failures (4/13), but no local failures, p < 0.01.
CONCLUSION: During CRT, pHPV can divide patients with SCCA into three groups with significantly different risk of failure. The use of pHPV can potentially assist in clinical treatment decision.