Researchers at the University of South Carolina have identified a new subtype of cervical cancer that has a unique association with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Much like other subtypes of cervical cancer, the new form has been associated with HPV infection, however the virus does not seem to influence the growth of this type of tumor.
According to the researchers, targeting the genomic pathways unique to this subtype of cervical cancer could result in therapies that out-perform the standard treatment. The research was published in the journal, Oncotarget.
“Cervical cancer patients are currently treated as a uniform group based on chemotherapy and radiation regimens that help the largest percentage of people; however, one third of these patients are not helped by standard therapies,” said first author Carolyn Banister, of the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. “We have discovered the existence of a subgroup of cervical cancers with very different genetic features. These women may benefit from alternative treatments that are not usually given to cervical cancer patients.”
Using data collected from 255 cervical cancer samples as part of the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute’s joint project known as The Cancer Genome Atlas, the researchers studied expression of two key oncogenes. Associated with growth of cervical cancer tumors, the researchers found that the oncogenes were either over-expressed (HPV-active class) or under-expressed (HPV-inactive class) in the cervical cancer samples.
The idea of an HPV-inactive class of cancers which grow and spread without the influence of the virus, was first reported by another research group out of the University of South Carolina. While this work was done using samples of head and neck cancer, the results can be applied to other HPV-associated cancer types.
Patients with HPV-inactive tumors were also found to have other differences when compared to their HPV-active counterparts. The median age of diagnosis for HPV-inactive cervical cancer was ten years older at 54 years, compared to 45 years, and the median survival was over 4 times shorter.
“Physicians managing cervical cancer patients should test for HPV oncogene expression in these tumors and consider personalized treatment depending on HPV activity,” said Banister. “HPV-active tumors have high expression of immunoregulatory genes and therefore may respond to immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy. In contrast, HPV-inactive tumors often have mutations in the PIK3CA/PTEN/AKT pathway, indicating that AKT kinase inhibitors may be effective treatment options for these patients.”