Category Archives: Allergy and Immunology

Can HPV Vaccination Be Simplified?

The human papillomavirus vaccine was recommended for routine use in 11-12 year old girls in 2007. But by 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, less than half had received one dose of the three-dose series and fewer than a third had received all three. The inconvenience of the need for three separate office visits along with the vaccine’s price – about $130 per Gardasil dose, as of July 2011 – have certainly contributed to the low uptake.

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Now, some parts of the world – including Mexico, Switzerland, and parts of Canada have moved to either a two-dose schedule, or a so-called “extended dose” schedule, in which the third dose is delayed until 5 years after the second one. (In the current U.S. three-dose schedule, doses two and three are given at 2 and 6 months, respectively, after dose one.)

“There has been emerging interest in HPV vaccine schedules with fewer than three doses, for a variety of reasons. These schedules could facilitate implementation, they may be more convenient for providers, parents, and vaccinees, and of course they would be cost-saving,” said Dr. Lauri Markowitz, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a recent meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

No data on the efficacy of fewer than three doses have been published by either Merck or GlaxoSmithKline from their pivotal trials of Gardasil and Cervarix, respectively. But some other data are available for both vaccines. A nonrandomized study in Costa Rica that included more than 1,100 women who had received just one or two doses of Cervarix suggested that two doses or maybe even just one – could be as protective as three doses against infection at 4 years.

And in an as-yet unpublished study done in Canada, immune responses against both HPV 16 and 18 at 3 years were similar between two doses of Gardasil given at age 9-13 years and three doses given at age 16-26 years. But, there are limited efficacy data and no long-term data, Dr. Markowitz said.

Electron micrograph of human papillomavirus (HPV) / Courtesy of the National Cancer Institute

In an e-mail, Deb Wambold of Merck Vaccines said that, while the company does support studies of alternative dosing schedules for HPV vaccination including two-dose regimens, so far those studies are “interesting preliminary explorations in select subpopulations of vaccinees,” and “It is important to note that there are no data on the clinical efficacy or durability of effectiveness with two doses of either of the HPV vaccines, as we have for the recommended three-dose vaccination regimen.”

Dr. Joseph A. Bocchini Jr., who chairs the ACIP HPV vaccine working group, concurred. In an interview at the ACIP meeting, he noted that the long-term efficacy of two doses is “worth looking at,” as is the varying of three-dose schedules. “But, at this point, there are too few data to apply this to recommendations in the United States.”

More data from ongoing trials will be available in the next few years, Dr. Markowitz said.

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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“Turning the Tide” on HIV/AIDS

In advance of the upcoming XIX International AIDS Conference, the International AIDS Society and the University of California, San Francisco, have issued the “Washington D.C. Declaration,” a nine-point action plan aimed at broadening global support for “Turning the Tide” of the AIDS epidemic.

Everyone is urged to sign the Declaration.

It calls for:

1) An increase in targeted new investments;
2) Evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment, and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need;
3) An end to stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions, and human rights abuses against those living with and at risk for HIV;
4) Marked increases in HIV testing, counseling, and linkages to services;
5) Treatment for all pregnant and nursing women living with HIV and an end to perinatal transmission;
6) Expanded access to antiretroviral treatment for all in need;
7) Identification, diagnosis, and treatment of tuberculosis;
8) Accelerated research on new tools for HIV prevention, treatment, vaccines, and a cure;
9) Mobilization and meaningful involvement of affected communities.

Turning the Tide is the theme of this year’s biennial conference, which will take place July 22-27 in Washington.  It is expected to draw 25,000 attendees, including HIV professionals, activists, politicians, and celebrities. Sir Elton John will open the conference and Bill Clinton will close it. A large delegation of U.S. members of Congress will participate, and Bill Gates will moderate a session. An enormous “Global Village” outside the D.C. Convention Center will be open to the public. “If you haven’t been, it’s a conference like no other,” conference cochair Dr. Diane V. Havlir said at a press briefing.

The recent optimism regarding HIV/AIDS stems from major advances in knowledge regarding prevention of partner transmission with early patient treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and male circumcision as HIV infection prevention (new data will be released at the meeting), all of which are viewed as breakthroughs  in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “So we have now in our hands the tools. The question is how do we combine those tools together, and how do we roll them out,” said Dr. Havlir, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and chief of the HIV/AIDS division at San Francisco General Hospital.

Dr. Diane V. Havlir / Photo by Miriam E. Tucker

Monday’s plenary session will include an address from Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on “Ending the HIV Epidemic: From Scientific Advances to Public Health Implementation.” Other plenary topics during the week will include viral eradication, vaccines, TB and HIV, and HIV/AIDS in specific populations including minorities, women, youth, and men who have sex with men. On Friday, there will be a plenary talk that may be of particular interest to the primary care community, “The Intersection of Noncommunicable Diseases and Aging in HIV.”

Plenaries and other conference sessions will be webcast at http://globalhealth.kff.org/aids2012.

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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New Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Will End Anti-TNF Dominance

Tumor necrosis factor inhibitor drugs began to dominate treatment of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and the inflammatory bowel diseases ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease a little over a decade again. Now, the time when the importance of the anti-TNFs will wane and newer drugs will take their place is clearly visible on the horizon. It hasn’t happened yet, but the era of anti-TNF dominance for treating inflammatory diseases that persisted throughout the 2000s will end in the next 5 years.

The anti-TNF era began in 1998 with the approval of etanercept (Enbrel) for rheumatoid arthritis and infliximab (Remicade) to treat Crohn’s disease. In subsequent years, the list of approved anti-TNFs expanded to include adalimumab (Humira), golimumab (Simponi), and certolizumab (Cimzia), and the approved indications grew to include many inflammatory disease of joints, the GI tract, and skin. The anti-TNFs revolutionized inflammatory disease treatment and made treatment to remission possible for many patients.

tumor necrosis factor (green, purple, black) and TNF receptors (blue)/courtesy Bassil Dahiyat; Science

But reports from just the past month show that new agents are overtaking the anti-TNFs.

In May, I reported from Digestive Disease Week on phase III trial results with vedolizumab, which was compared against placebo for patients with ulcerative colitis. One of the study investigators noted that vedolizumab beat the placebo arm for steroid-free clinical remission by 30 percentage points. “Nothing else is that good,” Dr. William Sandborn, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Diego, told me, and the benchmark he had in mind was the performance of the anti-TNFs in similar patients.

More recently, at the European Congress of Rheumatology earlier this month I heard a report on a head-to-head comparison of the anti-IL-6 drug tocilizumab (Actemra) and the anti-TNF adalimumab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. After 24 weeks of monotherapy, patients on tocilizumab had nearly a fourfold higher remission rate than patients on adalimumab. Though the monotherapy trial design did not mimic the way most rheumatoid arthritis patients get treated, the new drug tocilizumab absolutely blew adalimumab out of the water in a rare head-to-head comparison among different classes of anti-inflammatory drugs.

And at the same meeting several talks highlighted another new anti-inflammatory class of agents coming soon to the U.S. market, the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, such as tofacitinib, which is expected to received FDA approval later this summer. Phase III results show that tofacitinib has safety and efficacy that seems at least comparable to anti-TNF drugs, with the advantage of oral dosing.

Vedolizumab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib are just the tip of new waves of anti-inflammatory drugs that will soon substantially alter a landscape that the anti-TNFs have mostly had to themselves for the past 14 years. For the moment, the anti-TNFs have the advantage of a longer track record for safety, but changing that is only a matter of time.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter “mitchelzoler)

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Do Medical Tattoos Need Guidelines?

Should medical tattoos be standardized? Should there be guidelines pertaining to their design, and where on the body they’re located? Should physicians prescribe tattoos to patients with hidden medical conditions? And if the answer to any of those questions is yes, should medical personnel be the ones doing the tattooing?

Photo by Miriam E. Tucker / Used with permission

Those were among the questions raised by Dr. Saleh Aldasouqi in a poster presentation and at a press briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

Some patients with diabetes and other hidden medical conditions are choosing to be permanently tattooed rather than wear a necklace or bracelet to alert emergency personnel of their conditions. This is particularly common among patients with type 1 diabetes, for whom low blood sugar can result in unconsciousness or odd behavior that can easily be mistaken for drunkenness.

“There are a lot of patients with diabetes who are getting tattoos. Just Google ‘medical tattoos’ or ‘diabetic tattoos’ and you’ll find a large number from around the world.  The problem is they’re not consulting their physicians. They could have high sugar, which can affect wound healing. …There are so many issues now being talked about with regard to medical tattooing,” noted Dr. Aldasouqi, an endocrinologist at Michigan State University, Lansing.

He believes these issues should be addressed by professional medical organizations, possibly including those pertaining to diabetes, dermatology, and emergency medicine.

As for tattoo location on the body,  the wrist would be the most logical place since first responders will always check there, he said.

So who should do the tattooing?  Tattoo parlors that are licensed under state or local laws are typically clean and use sterile equipment, and require customers to read and sign consent forms that address medical conditions and risks.  Of course, tattoo artists would need to be educated about any new standard.

But dermatologists or plastic surgeons could do it as well. “We’re not competing with tattoo artists, but at least we can collaborate with them by standardizing at their level, or make it a minor surgical procedure. In fact, this is being done to mark the skin for radiation therapy in cancer patients, and in reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. Some medical tattooing is already being done  by medical specialists. So, it’s open for discussion.”

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Will the UK Win Gold in Public Health Preparedness?

In all likelihood, there will be no large-scale public health crises during the London 2012 Olympics. But Dr. Brian McCloskey has to prepare, just in case. That’s his job as the London director of the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA), the UK-government-funded yet independent public body charged since 2004 with protecting the health of the country’s population from all threats, including those from infectious disease, chemicals, violence, and anything else that may arise. The HPA also collaborates with the World Health Organization on “emergency preparedness for Mass Gatherings and High Consequence, High Visibility events,” Dr. McCloskey explained at the 22nd European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), sponsored by the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Brian McCloskey/Photo by Miriam E. Tucker

“Mass gatherings” are nothing new for London, which has routinely hosted large music and sporting events against a backdrop of ongoing terrorist threats. However, the Olympics represents one of the largest public health challenges yet, in terms of sheer scale and international media scrutiny, noted Dr. McCloskey, who has been with HPA since its inception and was director of public health with the U.K.’s National Health Service for 14 years prior to that.

The Olympics officially begins July 27 and ends 12 Aug. 12, followed by the Paralympics 29 Aug. 29 to Sept 9. In addition, London will also host the Olympic torch relay, Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee beginning in May, Wimbledon in June, possibly the largest-ever gay pride festival in late June-early July, and the Notting Hill Carnival in August. “In other words, there will be one long party in London from May through September,” he commented.

In all, the Olympics will comprise 26 sports in 34 venues, with 10,500 athletes, 17,000 people living in the Olympic Village, 21,000 media and broadcasters, and approximately 180,000 spectators per day in the Olympic Park. The challenge, he said, is to plan to respond to anything that can happen without disrupting life for Londoners.

Dr. McCloskey and his colleagues have been studying experiences at previous Olympics, as well as published literature on mass gatherings such as the yearly Islamic pilgrimage, or “Hajj,” to Mecca. Indeed, “mass gatherings” is an emerging area of medicine that was explored in depth earlier this year in a series of six articles in The Lancet. There is also a WHO advisory group on mass gatherings, and even a specialty curriculum being developed, he said in an interview.

Judging by previous experience, “The most likely thing to happen is nothing at all. Most Olympic Games go off without any problems, with only minor impact on the public health service and on public health. But, we do need to think about all the things that could happen.”

Mass gatherings have been associated with both food/waterborne and airborne/respiratory infectious diseases. Yet, less than 1% of healthcare visits in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics were for infectious diseases. In the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, surveillance for acute gastroenteritis, flulike illness, measles, and other health-related events turned up nothing unusual as compared with non-Olympics time periods.

London Underground Billboard/Photo by Miriam E. Tucker

During the 2012 Olympics, the HPA will deliver a “Situation Report” each morning to Olympics organizers, describing the state of public health in England and highlighting any potential issues. Managing rumors will also be important, he noted.

Laboratory surveillance, clinical case reporting, and syndromic surveillance—based on patient complaints—will all be enhanced during the Games, with the help of primary care providers and hospitals around the U.K. Any triggers will be followed up, with a much lower threshold and greater speed than usual. In fact, most of these surveillance systems have been in place for at least a year now. “So we’re feeling very comfortable,” Dr. McCloskey said.

And these measures will last beyond the Games. “We will have at least two new surveillance systems in the U.K. as a legacy afterwards…What you get is improved public health systems but also better recognition of the importance of public health and better working relationships…Every country I’ve talked to who’s hosted the Games says we can expect that legacy. Provided nothing goes wrong. But of course, it’s not going to go wrong, it’s all in place, so come and enjoy it.”

–Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Top Five Contact Allergens Missed With Standard Screening Tray

Courtesy of Omegatron, via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Here are the top five contact allergens that are missed using the standing 28-allergen screening tray (T.R.U.E. Test), according to Dr. Donald V. Belsito, who presented the top 25 at the annual meeting of the American Contact Dermatitist Society in San Diego. The results are based on a retrospective analysis including 2,088 patients who were patch tested from 1995-2010.

1.)  Bacitracin

2.)  Methyldibromglutaronitrile/phenoxyethanol

3.)  2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol

4.)  Propylene glycol

5.)  DMDM hydantoin (1,3-Bis(hydroxymethyl)-5,5-dimethylimidazolidine-2,4-dione)

Kerri Wachter

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Contact Allergen of the Year: Acrylates

Courtesy of Hehkuviini, via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

I’ll spare you the suspense.  This year’s contact allergen of the year is the acrylates.  Yes, you probably do use acrylates.  Have artifical nails? Had dental work? A joint replacement? Plexiglas? That’s why the acrylates were chosen this year.

“We chose them because acrylates are everywhere in the environment,” said Dr. Donald V. Belsito, who announced this year’s winner at the annual meeting of the American Contact Dermatitis Society.  Acrylates are plastic materials that are formed by the polymerization of monomers derived from acrylic or methacrylic acid. While monomers are very strong irritants and allergens, fully polymerized acrylates are relatively inert.

However, “patch testing is tricky, and I think that’s something that we’re just finding out about the acrylates,” said Dr. Belsito, a professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University in New York. “They’re very volatile. The stability of the [patch test] allergens is a major issue, and they should be frozen or refrigerated.”

Kerri Wachter (on twitter @knwachter)

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Seeking Global Accord on Allergy

Four major professional allergy organizations have launched a new effort to raise worldwide awareness of allergic diseases.

The International Collaboration on Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (iCAALL) is a project of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), and the World Allergy Organization (WAO). The leaders of each group announced the new initiative at a press briefing held during the AAAAI’s annual meeting in Orlando. An editorial introducing the initiative is online and will be published in the April issue of the Journalof Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“The world has experienced a tremendous increase in the prevalence of allergic diseases and asthma over the last 50 years,” EAACI president Dr. Cezmi Akdis said, noting that asthma currently affects 8%-12% of the developed world, and allergic rhinitis, approximately 20%-25%. Asthma care costs more than 20 billion Euros today and is expected to jump to 200 billion Euros in 2050. Yet, current research funding is only about 2%-3% of that devoted to diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.

“We need better treatments and tailored care. We need more and more research … I am confident that iCAALL will result in a greater awareness about allergies, asthma, and immunologic diseases all around the world, resulting in prevention, cure, and better patient care, which is only possible by increased allocation of resources for research,” Dr. Akdis said.

According to WAO president Dr. Ruby Pawankar, “Allergies and asthma are no longer diseases of just the developed world … It’s a huge problem in the industrializing and the developing world.” She pointed out that allergic disease has been absent from the recent World Health Organization/United Nations focus on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), highlighted by a high-level meeting last September.

“The WHO and UN have made efforts toward giving more attention to NCDs. However, the area of allergy and asthma and clinical immunologic diseases needs to get to the stage to be represented at the WHO and UN.” To that end, WAO has issued a White Book on allergic disease with reports from 62 member countries, Dr. Pawankar said.

Dr. Wesley Burks described the iCAALL centerpiece initiative, a series of International Consensus (ICON) reports. The first ICON, on food allergy, is already online. It includes breastfeeding in the first 4-6 months as a key recommendation for reducing the risk for allergic disease. Food allergy is rising worldwide; in China, for example, food allergy has almost doubled from 3.9% 10 years ago to 7.7% today. “In a country thought not to have a lot of food allergy, that’s a significant change,” said Dr. Burks, president-elect of AAAAI.

Dr. Stanley Fineman, ACAAI president, outlined the plans for dissemination of upcoming ICONs: One on pediatric asthma is to be released at the EAACI Congress  in June in Geneva; the next, on angioedema, at the ACAAI meeting in November in Anaheim, Calif.; and then one on eosinophilic disorders at the WAO’s International Scientific Conference in December in Hyderabad, India.

Dr. Dennis K. Ledford, outgoing AAAAI president and iCAALL chair, said that other initiatives will incorporate additional means for disseminating research and increasing support for research. “It’s an evolving collaborative, happening as we speak.”

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Neckties: A Magic Carpet Ride for Bacteria?

My necktie collection needs a makeover, at least some vim and a spray-down with Febreze to mask their musty smell.

Three of my favorite ties, which could be harboring transmittable bacteria. Nice. Photo by Doug Brunk/Elsevier Global Medical News

I keep my collection hanging on a tie rack shoved in the far corner of my closet, barely within reach and safe from potentially damaging ultraviolet rays. Wearing ties underwhelms me, though I consider three as prized possessions. These include a tie that celebrates horseracing at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, another tastefully decorated with the Great Seal of the State of New York (my home state), and one littered with different Donald Duck facial expressions, a gift from a former boss who had a tendency to call me “Duck” instead of Doug.

Results from a small controlled experiment published online Feb. 3, 2012, in the Journal of Hospital Infection have me worrying about my tie collection now, though. If its results are correct, these ties collectively might contain enough bacteria to grow mushrooms that I could add to a homemade marinara sauce, perhaps even enough to help spawn life on some planet in a faraway galaxy.

For the experiment, a team of researchers from Scott and White Healthcare, a general medical and surgical hospital based in Temple, Tex., set out to investigate the extent to which shirt sleeve length and/or the wearing of a tie affects the rate of transmission of bacteria from an examiner to a patient. One physician wore four clothing combinations: long sleeve shirt with unsecured tie, long sleeve without tie, short sleeve with tie, and short sleeve without tie. The physician performed mock history and physical examinations on five clothed mannequins dressed in hospital gowns in a simulation center while the researchers obtained cultures from the physician’s tie, shirt sleeves, and from each mannequin’s cheek, right hand, and abdomen before and after the mock examinations.

“The control cultures of the physician’s clothing inoculation sites in each combination group both before the first simulated patient interaction and after the last one demonstrated greater than 300 colony-forming units of micrococcus on each,” the researchers reported. “This confirmed the assumption that the bacteria were alive prior to and at the end of the encounters. The culture of the deliberate contamination site grew 44 colonies, demonstrating the ability of the mannequin to be inoculated by an article of clothing.”

They went on to discover that cultures taken from the abdomen, cheek, and hand sites of the mannequin prior to encounter “grew a total of five colonies of contaminant bacteria. There was no growth of micrococcus on any simulated patient prior to the history and physical examination.”

Simulated patient encounters in which an unsecured tie was worn had significantly more mannequins contaminated with micrococcus compared with those encounters in which an unsecured tie was not worn. However, sleeve length had no significant impact on the colonization rates.

“Neckties most often end at the waist, swing, and are not readily machine washable,” the researchers observed. “In patient interactions, unsecured ties may swing across an infected field either to transmit bacteria to the patient, or to the cleansed hands of the provider which are then transferred to the patient. Our report provides evidence for a policy suggesting that physicians should not wear unsecured ties when seeing patients.”

The experiment did not factor in the game-changing potential of wearing tie tacks to keep neckties from swinging like a pendulum.

I guess it was only a matter of time before neckties would become the subject of healthcare-associated infection risk, with previous studies having established clear bacterial transmission links through unwashed hands, hospital curtains, and white coat sleeves. It begs a sobering question, though: where is the next undiscovered bacterial carrier lurking? Let me mull that over, but I’d like to wash my hands first.

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

Photo by Doug Brunk/Elsevier Global Medical News

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HPV Changes the Face of Head/Neck Cancer

Just a few years ago, tobacco and alcohol use were presumed to be the main causes of head and neck cancers. Evidence of oropharyngeal cancer associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) first appeared about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2010, with the publication of 2 papers showing far greater survival among HPV-positive patients with head and neck cancer, that oncologists suddenly realized that they were likely dealing with two distinct diseases.

“It’s become clear that the disease we thought was one disease related to tobacco and alcohol is now being parsed into two major categories,” Dr. Maura L. Gillison said last week in Phoenix at the 2012 Multidisciplinary Head and Neck Cancer Symposium. At the meeting, she presented her group’s data showing that the overall prevalence of oral HPV infection in people aged 14-69 years is 6.9%, and that the prevalence is much higher among men than women. The Merck-supported trial paper was published online in JAMA on January 26, coinciding with her presentation.

Tissue section from a head and neck cancer patient / Courtesy of Tom Carey, Ph.D.

In a separate talk, Dr. Gillison summarized previous work from her group showing that the incidence of HPV-related cancer is rising while HPV-negative cancer is declining, consistent with the decline in tobacco use and changes in sexual behavior that increase HPV transmission. Overall survival of head and neck cancer has improved over the last decade, a trend that is likely due both to the improved prognosis among HPV-positive patients and to the decline in tobacco use rather than to advances in treatment, she said.

This recently heightened role of HPV in head and neck cancer  – and the awareness of it – has impacted the field of oncology in several ways. For one, it has dramatically changed the way research is done, conference chair Dr. Ezra Cohen told me. “It has made a tremendous difference in the way clinical trials are conducted, because it makes absolutely no sense to lump these patients together. Now all clinical trials will either stratify for HPV status or design completely separate studies, because they truly are two biologically different diseases.”

Clinically, patients with head and neck cancers are now routinely tested for HPV. This wasn’t the case prior to 2010. And those who test positive are counseled differently, since their prognosis is better. Indeed, Dr. Cohen said, HPV-positive head/neck cancer patients appear to respond better to just about every type of treatment, including surgery.

What’s more, Dr. Gillison told me, HPV has essentially upended some of the tools oncologists use to predict outcomes in head and neck cancer patients. One example is the current tumor staging system, which doesn’t take into account HPV status. A Stage 3 or 4 cancer which carries a poor prognosis among HPV-negative patients might carry the prognosis now associated with Stage 1 cancer among those who are HPV-positive. And another factor that has been shown to predict poor outcome in HPV-negative patients, the presence of extracapsular extension, appears to have little impact in those who are HPV-positive.

“So all these things that we take as firmly established and drivers of treatment decisions in this new setting are all in question,” she said.

Tissue section from the same head/neck cancer, with brown stain of an HPV marker protein called p16 / Courtesy of Tom Carey, Ph.D.

Thus far there have been no major changes in treatment, but Dr. Cohen believes that is likely to change as more data become available. He is currently leading a clinical trial  in collaboration with Novartis Pharmaceuticals looking at treatment with reduced radiation doses – and thereby reduced toxicity – for patients who have a good response to induction chemotherapy. Such patients are usually HPV positive.

Another study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, randomizes HPV positive patients to radiation combined with either chemotherapy or a monoclonal antibody, with the hypothesis that the latter will be better tolerated.

Dr. Cohen cautioned that treatment changes won’t come immediately. “Many of us in the field believe that there will be different therapies developed for [HPV-positive] patients, but it takes time to do that. It’s hard to make those changes, especially when we are curing the majority of these patients.”

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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