Circulating HPV DNA as a Biomarker for Pre-Invasive and Early Invasive Cervical Cancer: A Feasibility Study

Cancers (Basel). 2023 May 2;15(9):2590. doi: 10.3390/cancers15092590.


Background: High-risk HPV infection is responsible for >99% of cervix cancers (CC). In persistent infections that lead to cancer, the tumour breaches the basement membrane, releasing HPV-DNA into the bloodstream (cHPV-DNA). A next-generation sequencing assay (NGS) for detection of plasma HPV circulating DNA (cHPV-DNA) has demonstrated high sensitivity and specificity in patients with locally advanced cervix cancers. We hypothesised that cHPV-DNA is detectable in early invasive cervical cancers but not in pre-invasive lesions (CIN).

Methods: Blood samples were collected from patients with CIN (n = 52) and FIGO stage 1A-1B CC (n = 12) prior to treatment and at follow-up. DNA extraction from plasma, followed by NGS, was used for the detection of cHPV-DNA.

Results: None of the patients with pre-invasive lesions were positive for CHPV-DNA. In invasive tumours, plasma from one patient (10%) reached the threshold of positivity for cHPV-DNA in plasma.

Conclusion: Low detection of cHPV-DNA in early CC may be explained by small tumour size, poorer access to lymphatics and circulation, and therefore little shedding of cHPV-DNA in plasma at detectable levels. The detection rate of cHPV-DNA in patients with early invasive cervix cancer using even the most sensitive of currently available technologies lacks adequate sensitivity for clinical utility.

Keywords: cervical cancer; circulating DNA; human papillomavirus; liquid biopsy; next generation sequencing; plasma.