Oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) has now surpassed cervical cancer as the most common site of HPV-related cancer in the United States. HPV-positive OPSCCs behave differently from HPV-negative tumors and often present with early lymph node involvement. The bacterial microbiome of HPV-associated OPSCC may contribute to carcinogenesis, and certain bacteria may influence the spread of cancer from the primary site to regional lymphatics.
To determine the bacterial microbiome in patients with HPV-associated, early tonsil SCC and compare them to benign tonsil specimens.
The microbiome of primary tumor specimens and lymph nodes was compared to benign tonsillectomy specimens with pan-pathogen microarray (PathoChip).
A total of 114 patients were enrolled in the study. Patients with OPSCC had a microbiome that shifted towards more gram-negative. Numerous signatures of bacterial family and species were associated with the primary tumors and lymph nodes of cancer patients, including the urogenital pathogens Proteus mirabilis and Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Shigella dysenteriae, and Orientia tsutsugamushi.
Our results suggest that detection of urogenital pathogens is associated with lymph node metastasis for patients with HPV-positive OPSCCs. Additional studies are necessary to determine the effects of the OPSCC microbiome on disease progression and clinical outcomes.

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