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Bhisham Chera, MD
Gaorav Gupta, MD, PhD

UNC radiation oncologists Drs. Bhisham Chera and Gaorav Gupta presented early results of a clinical trial at this week’s American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in San Antonio, TX evaluating a blood test for HPV-linked oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer of the back of the throat.

Their findings suggest that a simple blood test (a “liquid biopsy”) looking for the presence of DNA from the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the causative agent for most cases of this type of cancer – could be both an effective and less expensive option for monitoring whether the cancer has returned following radiation therapy. Currently, patients successfully treated with radiotherapy receive expensive CT and/or PET scans at regular intervals after treatment in an attempt to detect a cancer recurrence.

Those patients (70 in total) whose blood did not contain any HPV DNA 3 months after treatment remained recurrence-free. Of the 19 patients whose blood did contain HPV DNA, 8 have already developed a recurrence and the other 11 are being closely monitored in case a recurrence develops at a later time.

Because the HPV virus is also known to cause other human cancers (including carcinomas of the cervix, penis and anus), this blood test might be useful as an early indicator that such cancers are developing, even before they are big enough to be detected, and also to screen for recurrence of previously-treated tumors.

For more information about this study, please visit the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s press release, HERE.


ASTRO is the world’s largest radiation oncology society, with more than 10,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, medical dosimetrists and other health care professionals who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapy.