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Cancer Cytopathol. 2012 Feb 25;120(1):18-25. doi: 10.1002/cncy.20175. Epub 2011 Jul 12.

Application of the hybrid capture 2 assay to squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck: a convenient liquid-phase approach for the reliable determination of human papillomavirus status.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland 21231-2410, USA.



A growing proportion of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). In light of the unique natural history and prognosis of HPV-related HNSCCs, routine HPV testing is being incorporated into diagnostic protocols. Accordingly, there is an escalating demand for an optimal detection strategy that is sensitive and specific, transferrable to the diagnostic laboratory, standardized across laboratories, cost-effective, and amenable to broad application across specimen types including cytologic preparations.


Cytologic preparations (fine-needle aspirates [FNAs] and brushes) were obtained from surgically resected HNSCCs and evaluated for the presence of high-risk HPV using the Hybrid Capture 2 assay. HPV analysis was also performed on the corresponding tissue sections using HPV in situ hybridization and p16 immunohistochemistry. In cases in which the immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization results were discordant, HPV status was determined by real-time polymerase chain reaction detection of E7 expression. HPV status in the tissues and corresponding cytologic samples was compared.


Based on benchmark HPV testing of the tissue sections, 14 HNSCCs were classified as HPV positive and 10 as HPV negative. All corresponding cytologic preparations were correctly classified using the Hybrid Capture 2 assay.


The Hybrid Capture 2 strategy, already widely used for the detection of high-risk HPV in cervical brushes, is readily transferrable to HNSCCs. Consistent accuracy in cytologic preparation suggests its potential application in FNAs from patients who present with lymph node metastases, and may eliminate the need to obtain tissue solely for the purpose of HPV testing.

Copyright © 2011 American Cancer Society.

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